We would like to thank Damien Bartoli for contributing to this 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.
An almost perfect illustration of the pastoral works of lyrical poets such as Virgil and Ronsard, this painting represents one of the popular rustic scenes that appealed to Bouguereau throughout his long career. The 1894 date of this work testifies to his lifelong interest in subjects of this kind, to which he devoted himself with as much passion as he did his other themes (see lots 32, 34, 37, 39, 42, 43, 44). Again and again, Bouguereau delighted in choosing contemporary genre subjects; his heroine became the humble peasant girl from the farm or seaside. This pastoral theme - almost always a single peasant girl in a landscape - became the subject matter that proved to be Bouguereau's most popular. It resulted in his commercial and financial success; he died a very rich man in 1905.
However, a number of other factors may have influenced Bouguereau's choice of subject. Rustic scenes and figurative painting were enjoying widespread popularity at the time and Bouguereau himself had studied under Oscar Gué, an artist who worked in this particular genre. Also worth mentioning is his relationship with rival painter, Hugues Merle (see lot 42). Both artists competed for commissions from the top collectors of the time (mostly Americans) and both realized that the pretty peasant girl was the subject most in demand. Also, the influential gallery owners Durand-Ruel and Goupil, certainly understood Bouguereau's commercial appeal in the marketplace, and most likely played a role in directing his choice of subject.
In addition to an obvious affinity for the refined brushwork of Raphael, Bouguereau's hieratic depiction of the girl (with priestess-like stature) and his deliberate idealization of quotidian activities seem to announce the arrival of the Symbolist and Rosicrucian movements. This painting, with its imaginative and subjective qualities, illustrates a connection between Bouguereau and Symbolist painters such as Edgard Maxence (see lot 160).
The present work was most likely painted in 1893 in Bouguereau's villa on the rue Verdière in La Rochelle, where he would spend his summer holidays in August and September. Consequently, it seems quite likely that the model was a young "Rochelaise" or from a neighboring village.
The artist drew inspiration for other paintings depicting summer and the harvest from the early 1890s: La jeune ouvrière, Le lever, and Marchande de pommes, to name but a few.
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