Sainte Famille 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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Completed in 1863, Sainte Famille was exhibited at the salon and then later at the Exposition Universelle of 1867. After this, it was purchased by the wife of Emperor Napoleon III.

A prime example of Bouguereau’s technique of carefully and accurately building an attractive and artistic rendition of the human body, particularly the female form.

Sainte Famille was initially done as an oil sketch study, which is still available to see today. The study demonstrates Bouguereau’s experimentation with the composition and form of Sainte Famille.

The final version differs slightly in the positioning of the figures and is an interesting way of comparing Bourguereau’s personal progress for the one artwork.

The final version of Sainte Famille demonstrates Bouguereau’s mastery of formal drawing. When a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Bouguereau visited anatomical dissections to aid in his training, as well as studied classical literature; which is very much shown in his Sainte Famille painting.

Greek sculpture was particularly revered by Bouguereau, and he names artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as his particular favourites. The inspiration of these illustrious artists is evident in Sainte Famille, as Bouguereau followed a similar classical approach to his work; in the form, composition and subject matter.

The graceful and charming portrayal of the Mother retains a realistic impression, while heightening her angelic beauty with an aura of fantasy.

Many of Bouguereau’s portrait paintings like Sainte Famille remain in private ownership.

An industrious and imaginative artist, William Adolphe Bouguereau’s work will be remembered and studied for generations to come. Working throughout his life, from early rise at dawn to the final light of dusk, his passion for his work and love for art will be forever immortalised with his own words before he died:

"Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come... If I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable."

William Adolphe Bouguereau is known as the quintessential salon painter of his generation.

Born in 1825, he was a French Academic painter and favoured the “Traditionalist” artistic movement, bringing him much criticism from the Impressionist artists of the time.

He made modern interpretations of classical subjects, emphasising the female human body in his realistics genre paintings.

Bouguereau is known to have created 822 completed paintings in his lifetime, but the location of many of these artworks still remains a mystery.

Bouguereau’s paintings were modern interpretations with mythological themes; creating fantastical and perfect worlds with either pagan or Christian settings. His works appealed to the wealthy patrons of that time, for whom Bourguereau created portrait paintings and smaller copies of his public works.