The scene is painted outdoors, near a bridge. The underside of the bridge offers a glimpse of the distant rocky countryside, where another girl appears to be have started the long trek home. Our Italian girl is dressed from head to toe in beautiful, fine clothing and the expression on her sultry face is, if not challenging, very direct.
A great deal of personality is revealed in her expression and stance. Bouguereau manages to capture a frank self-assurance and not merely copy it to the canvas, but rather communicate it through her strong, level gaze and the uncompromising line of her mouth.
William Bouguerau's ascent to fame was the result of hundreds of paintings - over eight hundred throughout his lifetime - that were cleverly crafted to deliver exquisite beauty, inspiration and pleasure to the viewer. This was regardless of whether the subject matter happened to be a shepherdess, nude female bathers, inhabitants of Hell, children at play, or the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, to name a few within a wide array.
While Bouguereau's career enjoyed great and consistent levels of success and adulation, on a personal level, he was no stranger to heartache, outliving four of his children and one wife. In addition, he was subjected to derogatory judgements by brilliant, contemporary Avant Garde artists such as Degas and Gaugin, who openly showed disdain for Bouguereau's consideration of viewer impact in his paintings. The Avant Garde movement placed paramount value on an artist striving for original expression, technique and subject matter.
It is very heartening to know that, after a period of stagnancy, interest in Bouguereau's soul-soothing art has once again experienced a rivival, regaining favor, value and recognition in the art world. Bougeureau was a highly gifted and prolific creator, a passionately hard-working artist who chose to remain true to his love for the Renaissance style, regardless of what others were doing.
Painted in 1871, Italian Girl Drawing Water sends a message. Whether intended or unintended, it is clear from the stunning contrasts of her clothing, the assurance of her posture, her heavenly skin and forthright gaze: Those who are not comfortable with her beauty should look away. Bravo, Monsieur Bouguereau.