Lot 42
  • 42

William Bouguereau

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
1,986,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • William-Adolphe Bouguereau
  • À la fontaine (At the Fountain)
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1897 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas


Arthur Tooth & Sons (acquired directly from the artist)
Possibly, Knoedler & Co., New York (acquired from the above in February, 1899)
Collection of Charles F. Grey, Evanston, Illinois
Evanston County Library, Illinois (bequeathed from the above and sold, Sotheby's, New York, November 3, 1999, lot 121, illustrated)
Private Collection, United States


Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, New York, 1890, p. 148
Mark Steven Walker, "William Adolphe Bouguereau, A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," William-Adolphe Bouguereau, l'Art Pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1991, p. 74
Damien Bartoli with Fred Ross, William Bouguereau, His Life and Works, New York, 2010, p. 382, illustrated pl. 242
Damien Bartoli with Fred Ross, William Bouguereau Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Works, New York, 2010, p. 319, no. 1897/08, illustrated p. 318

Catalogue Note

À la fontaine was painted in 1897 in La Rochelle, during one of Bouguereau's summer holidays.  By the late nineteenth century, the peaceful countryside had become a refuge for the artist far away from the professional and social demands of Paris. Yet during his summer sojurns, the prolific Bouguereau did not sequester himself to rest. The artist renovated his small villa's greenhouse into a studio, where he painted when not working outdoors in the fields or by the seashore.  Masterworks completed during these periods (his traveaux de vacances) like À la fontaine, were produced with as much care and attention as those conceived in his well-appointed Paris atelier and also reflect the ready inspiration offered both by the countryside and the lifestyle it allowed the artist to enjoy.

The two models of À la fontaine were sisters; the elder is Jeanne, and, the younger, Yvonne (see lot 39).  They lived in or around La Rochelle, and they were the inspiration for the majority of Bouguereau's summer pictures painted after 1893.  Though relatively little is known about the girls' biographies, their adolescence and relationship can be followed through a number of Bouguereau's compositions (as well as the occasional photograph taken while they pose in his studio) in which they tenderly embrace or share a daily chore. In the present work, Jeanne tilts the heavy weight of the green glazed clay water pitcher as Yvonne prepares to take a sip.

Visiting the well or a bubbling spring was among Bouguereau's favorite compositional themes and the present work combines the best elements of his traveaux des vacances, young peasants or fisherfolk going about their daily lives, while also incorporating elements of his fantasies paintings set in a world inspired by the Antique or mythology.  In fact, Jeanne and Yvonne could as easily be in Italy's Classical campagne as the fields of La Rochelle, as the landscape resembles that of many of the full length portraits the artist completed in the late nineteenth century. These hearken back to his 1850s travel and study throughout Italy when, over three years, the young artist filled sketch books and canvases with copies of Renaissance masterpieces, drawings of ancient artifacts, the people he encountered, and the colorful landscapes of the idyllic hill towns around Rome. The trip profoundly moved the artist and its lasting memories, coupled with his summertime in La Rochelle seem to come together in the present work.

Soon after leaving Bouguereau's studio, À la fontaine's popularity was secured through a photograph published in 1898 and offered for sale in a number of different formats by Braun & Clément.  The popularity of the image is further suggested by its continued inclusion in the firm's catalogue until 1908, three year's after Bouguereau's death. Seeing such a photograph while on holiday in Mainz, Germany, in 1900, Bouguereau's grandson William Vincens wrote to his mother: "I saw in a shop window four pictures by grandpa, the first I ever saw in Germany... [As for the last], I didn't see the name but it shows Yvonne on her knees drinking water from a pitcher, resting on a stone basin, which Jeanne holds towards her."  Moreover, Bouguereau endorsed the work as among his most significant when writing to its first owner, the American millionaire Charles F. Grey: "I understood that you have become the owner of À la fontaine.  I am delighted, as I consider the work to be one of my best, both in terms of composition and execution.  It is a picture I very much enjoyed painting and which will always hold my interest." Grey's pleasure with his acquisition is evidenced by the place it held in his collection at his home on Forest Avenue in Evanston, Illinois and the part it would play in his philanthropic endeavors.  Like many wealthy Americans of the late nineteenth century, a significant portion of Grey's fortune (made in the leather and hide business) was used to acquire the best European artwork of the period while another important sum was devoted to civic improvements (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1999). In 1900, Grey offered Evanston $100,000 to build a library and by 1905, with Andrew Carnegie's additional financial support, had built the first structure, and despite an earlier arrangement providing the land when the city was unable ("Evanston Street Names," Evanston Public Library, www.epl.org). In 1925 Grey bequeathed À la fontaine to the library where it was on display before being offered in these rooms in 1999, the proceeds benefiting the endowment fund, and providing further testament to the painting's position as one of the most special of Bouguereau's oeuvre.