The Oreads William-Adolphe Bouguereau Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Classified as a mythological painting, The Oreads by the renowned French academic painter and traditionalist, William-Adolphe Bouguereau is one of his most well-known works.

Dating back to 1902, the Neoclassicism style oil on canvas painting is quite captivating to behold, after all it features mythological Roman and Greek nymphs and fawns/satyrs!

The said painting does not depict a simple scene, there is a lot going on here and if one were to look closely at it then one would notice a lot of minute details which has been beautifully woven in by the master strokes of the painter’s hand.

Critics and art connoisseurs have hailed the painting as a splendid masterpiece and fine work of art. Even today, reproductions of the painting are sold in large numbers all around the world.

The painting is named after mountain nymphs or Oreads, also known as Orestiads. In Greek mythology, these creatures dwell in the mountains and follow Artemis, a widely venerated ancient Greek deity.

In Rome she is known as Diana. Artemis or Diana prefers to go hunting in mountains and rocky precipices, which is why the Oreads are associated with her. These nymphs basically come out in lively and joyful groups in the mountains for hunting deers, chasing wild boars and shooting down birds of prey using arrows.

At the signal of Diana, they would run to join her and form a spectacular retinue behind the deity. With the arrival of dawn, these mountain nymphs would rush back to the sky, i.e. to their own realm – something which is captured beautifully in this painting.

The Oreads painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau shows dissipating shadows (since dawn is approaching) and radiant colors of the mountain tops. There is a long procession of Oreads soaring up into the sky, towards the ethereal regions which are inhabited by the Gods, and also three fawns/satyrs looking at them in awe or astonishment.

Some experts have also commented that the satyrs are actually looking at them with lust, therefore the phrase ‘to each his own’ really applies as far as the interpretation of the satyrs’ reactions is concerned. The happy and lively band of Oreads who have frolicked during the night and engaged in hunting with the deity Diana are now seen taking to the sky or air by the still waters of the river. Nudity is a significant aspect of the painting, but it is done tastefully and the portrait painting does not appear vulgar whatsoever.

Born in La Rochelle, France in 1825, William-Adolphe Bouguereau is a world famous painter from the Realism movement. Apart from The Oreads painting, his other notable works include The Bohemian and The Birth of Venus. Belonging to the Realism movement, the French traditionalist and academic painter often uses mythological themes in his paintings. He is also known for making modern interpretations of classical subjects. Most of his paintings have a special emphasis of the nude female form of human body, therefore The Oreads painting is no exception! Bouguereau has made about 822 finished paintings in his lifetime.

Through The Oreads painting, Bougeureau proves once again that he is firmly fixated to his ideal of academic painting. The said painting demonstrates his outstanding drawing skills spectacularly. The expressions and attitudes of the human body (both male and female forms) are on point in the painting. Because of the fact that this painting has a mythological subject, Bouguereau has managed to introduced an erotic element to it without necessarily lapsing into bawdiness, as mentioned previously. The highly imaginative flight of nude female figures against the twilight landscape in the background almost has a poetic feel to it and is a highly commendable work. No wonder, it has received so much appreciation and praise from world over!