William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905)
The Water Girl (or Young Girl Going to the Spring), 1885
Oil on canvas, 63 1/8 x 28 7/8 in.
Signed and dated lower left: W. BOUGUEREAU-1885
Bouguereau was the consummate academician and ranked among the most commercially successful painters of the 19th century. His popularity rested, in large part, on his technical facility, his ability to create paintings whose polished surfaces, nuanced lighting, and delicate tints achieve an almost photographic verisimilitude. One of his favorite motifs was the idealized peasant girl dreamily engaged in various rustic activities. The innocence and simple grace of this subject (who appears far cleaner than her real-life counterparts would have been) epitomize the sentimental, non-threatening peasant archetype preferred by Bouguereau’s upper-class patrons. The artist used a young girl from his native village of La Rochelle as a model, but images such as this one owe less to actual rural life than to Bouguereau’s knowledge and love of the classical tradition. His figures resound with echoes of ancient Greek and Roman statuary (which he studied for several years in the Eternal City after winning the Prix de Rome in 1850), as well as the neoclassicism of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), whose famous painting of a nude nymph entitled The Source (1856, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) served as a direct antecedent for The Water Girl.