Lot 96
  • 96

Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau
  • L'Imprudente
  • signed Elizabeth Gardner (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 by 54 1/2 in.
  • 104.1 by 138.4 cm


Irene West, Kansas City
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, October 31, 2000, lot 115, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Elizabeth Gardner Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.:
"Elizabeth Gardner to Maria Gardner", November 10, 1885
"Elizabeth Gardner to Miriam Gardner", March 18, 1886
"Elizabeth Gardner to John Gardner", May 14, 1886
Boston Herald, "The Great French Art Exhibition, Salon of 1886", April 28, 1886
American Register 19, "Paris Salon", no. 945, May 15, 1886: p. 6
Theodore Child, "American Pictures at the Salon," Art Amateur 14, No. 6, 1886, p. 126, illustrated in the June issue.
George William Sheldon, Recent Ideals of American Art, New York, Garland, 1977, p. 124, illustrated
Madeleine Fidell-Beaufort, "Elizabeth Jane Gardner: A Parisian Artist from New Hampshire," Archives of American Art Journal 24, No. 2, 1984: 6, p. 7, illustrated

Catalogue Note

In 1864, Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau, a native of Exeter, New Hampshire, sailed for Paris in search of artistic training. By 1868, at the age of thirty, she had become one of the first American women, along with Mary Cassatt and Eliza Haldeman, to exhibit at the Paris Salon. This achievement launched her on a long and successful career in the French capital as a leading academic painter of her day. She had the distinction of exhibiting more works at the Paris Salon than any other American woman and, in 1887, became the first and only American woman to receive a Salon medal.

Her determination to secure training equal to that offered men was revealed in 1873 when she disguised herself as a man in order to gain access to the government subsidized drawing classes at the Gobelins Tapestry Factory. This incident represents one of the earliest documented cases of a woman sketching the male nude in the company of male students, an activity which was considered inappropriate for women. That same year, she continued drawing from life in the company of male artists at the Academie Julian in one of its first mixed drawing classes. In the late 1870s, Gardner became engaged to William Bouguereau, the foremost academic painter of the time, and proved to be his most talented student. Due to her remarkable skills as a draughtsperson, it is impossible, in certain paintings, to distinguish her work from her mentor's. This painting attests to that fact.

L'Imprudente (Too Venturesome) was exhibited at the Salon of 1886 (No. 1006). This is probably Gardner's most melodramatic work, exhibiting more pathos than usual. Her anecdotal treatment of peasant themes praised the wholesome values of country life, but tended to be less dramatic in nature. However, on January 17, 1886, as the artist was working on this painting, her mother passed away which may have affected, in some respects, Gardner's mood as she completed the picture.

The first time L'Imprudente is mentioned in the artist's correspondence is in a letter to her sister Maria, dated November 10, 1885, when she began work on the picture. She wrote: "Now I must try to do something nice for the Spring Exhibition. I have not quite decided what it shall be. I want to paint a little girl who has rescued her baby sister from the water where she had imprudently been in search of pond-lilies. It is so difficult that I don't yet see my way clear."
The painting received a No. 1 evaluation by the admission jury, which meant that it was very favorably hung, on the line. The Boston Herald (April 28, 1886) described the work as "an exquisitely artistic picture, well composed and showing all that strength of color and drawing, which, if the artist had had her just dues, would long since have won her medals from the Salon Jury." It was, in fact, at the next year's Salon that Elizabeth Gardner received the medal she so coveted. This raised the market value of her work and confirmed her high-ranking position among Salon artists.