oil on canvas
We would like to thank Damien Bartoli for contributing to the catalogue entry. This painting will be included in the forthcoming Bouguereau catalogue raisonné being prepared by Damien Bartoli with the assistance of Fred Ross, the Bouguereau Committee, and the Art Renewal Center, www.artrenewal.org.
Possibly, Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (possibly acquired directly from the artist)
Private Collection, London
Private Collection, London (after circa 1945)
Sale: Christie's, London, November 29, 1985, lot 74, illustrated (incorrectly catalogued as L'Innocence)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 158
Franqueville, William Bouguereau, n.p., n.d., p. 371 (as La jeunesse)
Catalogue Braun & Clément, 1907, no. 4099
Louise d'Argencourt and Mark Steven Walker, William Bouguereau, 1825-1905, exh. cat., Paris, 1984, fig. 61, illustrated (as Youth)
Mark Steven Walker, "A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," in William-Adolphe Bouguereau: L'Art Pompier, (exh. cat), New York, 1991, p. 74
This monumental painting represents one of Bouguereau's favorite subjects, a "fantaisie", which was in large part inspired by his understanding of Antiquity. As his biographer, Marius Vachon noted, Bouguereau indulged frequently in themes of this kind in which he found a recurrent source of inspiration. He delighted in the inexhaustible material for study and research, which Antiquity was always able to provide. In addition, Bouguereau's "fantaisies" also reflected his predilection for the Classical poets, while his own trips to Ravenna, Padua and especially Pompeii, introduced him to the local population. Here, beautiful Italian models were transformed into Bouguereau's trademark nymphs and Venuses. Under his direction, they learned how to pose and to properly arrange the folds of their voluminous drapery in an attempt to become Venus herself. But even though they temporarily became the Goddess of Love, they still were able to retain an air of innocence and purity. This reality was always projected into Bouguereau's finished product. Indeed, when we look at his paintings, we see a mythological Venus, but we also see a beautiful young woman from Paris, La Rochelle or Pompeii.
Representing an allegory of springtime, Jeunesse features a wood-nymph leaning against the wall of a large fountain situated in a sunlit clearing. The gracious and shy young girl covers her ears so as not to succumb to the whispers and cajoling of the two cupids fluttering by her side. The painting displays Bouguereau's virtuousity both as a colorist and as a draftsman. The composition features an imaginative harmony of colors placed in a charming, gracious, and delicate arrangement. Bouguereau's superb technique is also on display in the expertly rendered, classically inspired garments. The girl wears a chiton, a tunic worn by both sexes but particularly associated with women; Aphrodite herself was either portrayed in ancient art wearing a chiton, or nothing at all. A practical garment for the warm Mediterranean climate, its bleached-white color extols the virtues of purity and innocence embodied by the young girl.
The model was most likely recruited from the Italian community in Paris. She posed for Bouguereau for several of his paintings completed between 1892 and 1895, most notably, Offrance à l'Amour, Le papillon, and La toilette or Le ravissement de Psyché of 1895.
A photograph of this image was marketed in several formats in 1896 by the firm of Braun & Clément, and registered under the catalogue number 4099.
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