A loyal traditionalist, Bouguereau exhibited his paintings at the annual Paris Salon, providing his work with considerable exposure. As a result, he received a number of commissions for both public buildings and private clients and many of his portrait works remain in private collections.
Le retour du marché or The Return of the Market (1869) was painted at the pinnacle of the artist's career. It was at this time that Bouguereau's work took a departure from the typical historical painting of the period to explore more human aspects. Influenced by his rural upbringing, Bouguereau found inspiration in rustic peasant life as a subject through which to explore the human form and spirit.
His works portray an idealised view of peasant life, with a particular focus on youth, purity, hope and beauty. The main subject of such works were often children or young female models and he was well known for his accurate depictions of the human form.
This particular painting shows the influence of fellow French artist, Gustave Courbert. Courbert's work 'La fille aux mouettes' (1865) also shows a young, rustic girl carrying birds on a stick over her shoulder, as though on her return from the market. However, while the birds are centrally placed as the main focus of composition in Courbert's work, The Return of the Market is very much centred on the young peasant girl, who is connected to the viewer by her direct gaze and playful expression.
Similar paintings by Bouguereau which also depict a young female model in a rural setting include Jeune Bergère (The Young Shepherdess) and Moissonneuse (Harvester). It is such poignant and sentimental portrayals of innocent youth that helped to seal Bouguereau's reputation as a painter and increase demand for works of this nature.