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.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (acquired from the artist)
M. Knoedler & Company, New York (in 1901)
Henry W. Palmer, Brooklyn (in 1903)
Hammer Galleries, New York (in 1978)
Private Collection, Florida (in 1983)
James Francis Trezza, New York (in 1992)
Private Collection, New York (in 1998)
Mark Steven Walker, "William-Adolphe-Bouguereau, A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," in William-Adolphe Bouguereau L'Art Pompier, exh. cat., New York, 1992, p. 75
In May 1879, the chronicler Adrien Désamy noted in his review, Contemporary Art, "No one on earth writes of women and children better than Victor Hugo, and one could say of Mr. Bouguereau that no one of our time paints women and children better than he!" Indeed in his sensitive portrayals of peasants girls Bouguereau hoped to elevate the image of France's most humble citizens to iconic status. At the dawn of the twentieth century, when Bouguereau painted La Petite Maraudeuse, France had emerged from decades of great social change. Revolutions had replaced kings with presidents, transformed farms into factories, and the demands of modern business threatened the agrarian way of life. Yet these concerns were eased by finely painted portraits of country children like the present work's model sitting alone on a rough-hewn stone wall, one hand held to her forehead, hiding her eyes, the other grasping a ripe pear. Her eyes are demurely averted from the viewer's gaze perhaps (as the title suggests) in guilty recognition of her pilfered fruit, taken from an orchard not her own, while her loosely combed tresses, bare feet, and the roughly woven cloth of her dress suggest her humble means, a justification for her "crime". There is a naturalistic truth to Bouguereau's representation of the young girl, her skin slightly reddened by the countryside's bright sun. Painted as a full-length portrait and set in a vertical picture space in front of a loosely painted landscape Bouguereau affords his model monumental stature. At the same time, the composition's smooth brushwork erases the presence of the painter, and creates a balance between immobile, static form and rich surface details, textures and color. As such, La Petite Maraudeuse combines the real and the idealized, connected yet apart from the daily life of the late nineteenth century. The carefully constructed canvas demonstrates that Bouguereau saw the work not as a flight of fancy but a record of his time spent in the French countryside. Indeed, from the 1870s onward, Bouguereau devoted an increasingly significant portion of his activity to this type of genre subject, painting the girls of his hometown of La Rochelle and the surrounding countryside with the same passion he brought to his other more monumental history subjects. Bouguereau's elevation of his sitter's individual feelings and experiences to a universal level may well be the singular achievement of the artist's long and illustrious career.
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