Lot 29
  • 29

William Bouguereau

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • William-Adolphe Bouguereau
  • Joueur de flûte
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU and dated 1878 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 16 by 13 in.
  • 40.6 by 33 cm


Goupil, Paris (acquired directly from the artist, May 1878, no. 12776, as Petit joueur de flûte)
Theo van Gogh, Amsterdam, or possibly The Hague (acquired from the above, 1878)
Purves Family Collection, Winnipeg, Canada (since circa 1970)
Thence by descent


Charles Vendryès, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 58 (as Joueur de flûte, (buste))
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 153
Mark Steven Walker, "William-Adolphe Bouguereau, A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," William-Adolphe Bouguereau, L'Art Pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1992, p. 70
Damien Bartoli with Frederick Ross, William Bouguereau Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 182, no. 1878/07, illustrated p. 183

Catalogue Note

In his accounts, Bouguereau gave a title of Tête d’enfant avec une flûte to the present work, yet the instrument depicted more closely resembles a piffero, an Italian folk instrument related to the modern oboe, which was used by the musical troupes who would descend from the hills around Rome to celebrate Christmas. Both the music and the sweet expression of Bouguereau’s young musician likely evoked the artist’s happy memories of travel to Italy in the late 1840s.  Bouguereau had painted young musicians as early as 1870 in works like  Pifferaro (Bartoli, no. 1870/80, and sold in these rooms April 18, 2007, lot 90).   Pifferaro’s model is several years older than the present work’s child, who would likely find it a challenge to draw enough breath to produce a successful note through the long double-reed.  This youth is almost certainly the same model who similarly holds a large china cup in La Tasse de Lait, painted a year later in 1879 (Bartoli, no. 1879/05, and sold in these rooms, November 8, 2012, lot 44).  The child, one of Bouguereau’s favorite subjects of the period, appears again in Jeunes Bohemiennes (Bartoli, no. 1879/01) exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1879 and one of the artist’s masterworks of peasant and gypsy paintings, which he continued to paint throughout his career.  In each of these compositions the child is set within a vast, arid landscape, their deep, almond-shaped eyes, dark curls, and bow lips hallmarks of this model at such a young age. 

Soon after leaving Bouguereau's studio, Joueur de flûte left Paris-based Goupil for Theo van Gogh (1857-1891), a Dutch art dealer and younger brother of Vincent van Gogh.  In January 1873, Theo joined the Brussels office of Goupil, becoming their youngest employee.  He was later transferred to The Hague where we worked for several years — finally settling at the Paris gallery.  As van Gogh became well known in the art world, so too did Bouguereau’s fame continue to grow.   A little over a decade after van Gogh received the present work in 1878, Vincent would write to him comparing his Berceuse against Bouguereau's compositions: “I do know that it’s neither drawn nor painted as correctly as a Bouguereau, which I almost regret, as I seriously have the desire to be correct” (January 30, 1889, letter 744, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b622 V/1962). While Bouguereau’s part in the van Gogh brothers' careers is understood, the collector to whom Theo sold Joueur de flûte has yet to be determined. Indeed, the present work has been untraced for 135 years, known only through a black and white photograph.