Bouguereau’s ‘Fancies’: Allegorical and Mythological Works by the French Master

Being a representational artist and having the pinnacle of mastery in figurative art in your backyard I literally broke the law by speeding to get to the Flagler Museum in West Palm Beach, FL. for the final hour of the exhibition. Yes, it’s that important, it’s like going to Paris and not visiting the Louvre if I would have missed it. Allow me to share my experience.When I first heard the exhibition was coming to town, I quickly jumped on Social Media sounded the alarm to all my local artist friends. William Bouguereau, the famous French painter from the 1800s, changed what perfection meant in figurative painting and became the legend that we artist and painters of the human form strive for. I knew the exhibition was ending April 19th and of course I kept putting it off and even after having a long laborious day working around the house with 3 hour left before the close of the last day I broke the speed limit and dodged several state troopers to get at least an hour with these beautiful paintings.

Bouguereau’s paintings are spread in collections and museums across the globe. I came across my first Bouguereau at Les Petite Palais in Paris and next at Musee D’Orsay the next day. Both were moments that I could swear I heard the angels singing when I locked eyes on them. In any case, it was amazing to encounter several large sized original paintings of this master in one exhibition. I quickly pulled out my pocket-sized sketchbook and went to town jotting down as many notes as I could as stood in front of each painting. Overall the biggest observation I noticed was that his shadows are low chroma, or that is, low saturation in color. Secondly and still to my amazement, barely any brush strokes are visible. Secondly was amazed at how much red he employed in key areas like the corner of eye sockets, nostrils, fingers and ears. I’m talking almost pure hue chroma as if it were coming out of the tube! OK, that was an exaggeration but in comparison to the surrounding colors, they definitely sing out loud. The old master, however, is able to pull it off with convincing expertise.

Lastly, I was blown away by the fact that he actually outlined most of his figures all over! Again, his expertise allows him make it all appear to sing kumbaya between the harmony of the warm skin tones and cool shadows he manages to match the value and chroma of the outline to go perfectly in each section. A stark contrast to some other Old Masters where they disappeared the edges.

Overall it was high-octane hour of education and awe as there was so much in common between his paintings such as low chroma backgrounds, cool shadows, and strong chroma in the flesh tones in the halftones and to my surprise the highlights weren’t even that high in value. With all this in common with most of his paintings, they each had their own language and were remarkably a study all unto their own. I strongly encourage all figurative painters to seek out the opportunity to view these gems where ever you are on this planet as you will soon realize that no picture does them justice. Keep on striving for excellence and despise mediocracy. I invite you to visit my site

Originally published at on April 21, 2015.