Lot 27
  • 27

William Bouguereau

125,000 - 175,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • William-Adolphe Bouguereau
  • Portrait de jeune fille
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU- and dated 1898 (upper left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 16 1/4 in. by 12 3/4 in.
  • 41.3 by 32.4 cm


Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (acquired directly from the artist, April 1898, probably no. 1072, as The Head, until at least December 1898, retitled Innocence)
George N. Tyner, Holyoke, Massachusetts (and sold, his sale, American Art Association, New York, February 1, 1901, lot 25, illustrated, as Girl's Head)
Mr. Henry (acquired at the above sale)
John W. Sterling, New York (and sold, his estate, American Art Association, New York, January 17, 1919, lot 27, as Innocence)
Holland Galleries (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, May 7, 1998, lot 81, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale


Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, his life and works, New York, 2010, p. 472, illustrated pl. 309; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 472, illustrated pl. 309
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 323-4, no. 1898/09, illustrated p. 322; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 323-4, no. 1898/09, illustrated p. 322

Catalogue Note

William Bouguereau had a reputation for selecting some of the most beautiful models in Paris.  His sitters needed to be as exceptional as his paintings, and finding the ideal face and figure was not always an easy process.  As the artist explained: “I have work ready and waiting.  But how many works remain uncompleted because I cannot find the model I dream of” (“M. Bouguereau chez lui,” L’Éclair, May 9, 1891, as quoted in Bartoli and Ross, William Bouguereau, p. 470).  Depending on the models' attributes, physical aspects of several women could be composited in a single, final painting’s figure. Through a series of sketches and drawings, Bouguereau would first work out form, light, and shadow before turning to paint a study of the model’s head. This complex technique was even more remarkable when considering the account of Bouguereau’s student, Robert Marc, who remembered the artist painting such studies in as little as four hours (Bartoli and Ross, William Bouguereau, p. 472).  These canvases informed the intimate scale of the present work and the use of a dark background to project the illuminated figure out of the picture space, creating an immediate connection between viewer and subject. Soon after its completion, the present work was acquired by Massachusetts state Senator George N. Tyner (1851-1904) whose nationally published obituary proclaimed him “one of the foremost art connoisseurs in the United States, his collection including more than a hundred canvases by famous artists” (“George N. Tyner Dead,” The Hutchinson [Kansas] News, February 22, 1904, p. 8).  Before entering politics, Tyner grew the Holyoke Envelope Company to one of the largest manufacturers of its kind, with 200 employees producing 3.4 million envelopes a day (“New England Notes,” The New England Stationer and Printer, vol. 12, October 1898, p. 15).  His business acumen provided for a beautiful Holyoke home, where Portrait de jeune fille hung with works by Gustave Courbet (see lot 61), Jehan Georges Vibert (see lot 76), Jean Béraud (see lot 73), Alberto Pasini (see lot 26), and Félix Ziem (see lot 51) and Impressionist compositions by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro.  Tyner’s collection was sold in 1901 and Portrait de jeune fille was soon acquired by another wealthy American, John William Sterling (1844-1918), founding partner of New York’s Shearman & Sterling LLP which represented Jay Gould, Henry Ford, and Standard Oil among other powerful clients.  Sterling’s townhouse at 912 Fifth Avenue boasted both an extensive private law library and art collection, where Bouguereau’s work hung among those by Pierre Cot, Albert Edelfelt (see lot 13), and Jean-Léon Gérôme (see lots 3, 49).  Upon Sterling's death, his estate was valued at $20 million, “considered one of the largest ever amassed by a man, pursuing strictly a professional career” and more than $15 million of it (more than $200 million today) was bequeathed to his alma mater Yale University (“$15,000,000 Sterling Bequest to Yale," The New York Times, July 17, 1918).  Upon the auction of Sterling’s collection he was remembered as “among that considerable number of men of great wealth and achievements who expended a great deal of money in securing a good collection…. His recreation was collecting pictures and at night he yielded to their fascination…. He believed this intimate communion with his pictures greatly refreshed his mind, took him into another world where only peace and happiness prevailed” (“Holland’s Letter,” The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 1919, p. 2).  In this spirit, Bouguereau's contemplative portrait was an ideal companion for the powerful collector seeking a personal connection with his art.