Lot 412
  • 412


250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau
  • La captive
  • signed Elizabeth Gardner (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 68 by 47 in.
  • 172.7 by 119.4 cm


Knoedler & Co., New York, no. 4505 (acquired directly from the artist, August 1883)
Josephine Mellen Southwick Ayer, New York (acquired from the above, January 1884)
Probably, Mrs. Frederick Pearson, New York (née Lesley Josephine Ayer, by descent from the above, her mother)
Mrs. Beverley Bogert, Newport, Rhode Island (née Josephine Southwick Pearson, by descent from the above, her mother, and sold, her estate, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, March 24, 1954, lot 82, as The Pet Dove)
William Henry Haussner and Frances Wilke Haussner, The Haussner's Restaurant Collection, Baltimore (acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby’s, New York, November 2, 1999, lot 46, illustrated, as The Dove Fanciers)
Richard Green, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Paris, Salon des Artistes Français, 1883, no. 997


Philippe Burty, Salon de 1883, Paris, 1883, p. 83, illustrated
Elsie May Smith, "Some Happy Children: A Study of the Work of an American Girl Who Became the Wife of a Famous French Painter," The School Arts Magazine, Boston, 1912-13, vol. 12, p. 589
Tiffany M. Reed, "Elizabeth Gardner: Passion, Pragmatism, and the Parisian Art Market," Woman’s Art Journal, Philadelphia, 1999-2000, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 30, illustrated


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has been well restored. The canvas has slightly relaxed on its stretcher, but this can easily be tightened. The painting is clean, varnished and retouched. Given the scale of the work, the condition seems to be particularly good. There is no abrasion to the paint layer, and no structural damages are apparent. The details are all very sharp. There may be a few retouches in the background to the right of the left forearm holding the birdcage. There are a few spots of retouching on the cheekbone of the woman wearing pink, and a few thin cracks have been retouched in the neck of the woman wearing blue. There are a few tiny dots in the left wrist of the woman holding the dove. There is one small loss at the bottom of the white dress around the knees of the kneeling figure, and a couple of isolated spots of retouching in the background. The painting is extremely well preserved overall. While the varnish could be removed, which may slightly brighten the work, this is not recommended at this time. The canvas should be tightened, but the work should otherwise be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau was one of the most accomplished Salon artists among expatriates in mid-nineteenth century Paris.  From 1868-1914, she exhibited a total of thirty six paintings, more than any other foreign or American female artist. In 1887 she had the distinction of becoming the only American woman to receive a Salon medal.Gardner chose to compete in the male dominated domain of figure painting rather than more traditional female genres. Women and children were the core focus of her figural groupings, as they are in La captive, exhibited at the Salon of 1893 (no. 997). Anecdotal paintings, such as the present work, allowed Gardner to showcase her exceptional skills at painting the figure in a variety of settings, each with their own story line. The artist was a bird lover and kept parrots, doves and other species in her studio cages, while a number of local birds flocked to her windows for daily feedings, and they feature in a number of her compositions like La captive.

William Bouguereau, who Gardner would marry in 1896, called Arcadian works, such as La captive, "les fantasies," and encouraged her to paint them.  The present work centers around a captive white dove, which two women, dressed in Classical attire of contrasting hues, gaze upon in a nostalgic, possibly questioning manner, as they contemplate its fate. The kneeling figure’s gaze searches that of her companion who, in turn, seems to contemplate the dove. The duality of the figures’ coloring and their positioning on the canvas is contrasted by the triangular interaction of their regards and the overall triangular, linear composition of the piece. The subdued, tasteful color palettes and the careful treatment of the figures, faces, hands, feet, and drapery, were central to the tenets of Academic art.

With La captive, Gardner acknowledges the viewer’s understanding of the white dove’s many symbolic attributes such as peace, love, purity, nobility, and freedom.  While the painting’s title underlines a more traditional reading of the narrative, at the same time the dove’s uncertain release from its cage may also allude to the loss of innocence or the status of contemporary women in a time of transition.  Beyond a didactic narrative, the expressive treatment of Gardner’s composition ultimately may have been best admired for its delicate and chaste subject placed in a nostalgic, timeless landscape.

Soon after it left the Salon, La captive was acquired by Josephine Mellen Southwick Ayer (1827-1898) who built an important collection first for the Lowell, Massachusetts home she shared with her husband Dr. James C. Ayer, and later her residences in New York and Paris. La captive was the perfect choice for Ayer who, as remembered by her biographer, “adorned her home with beautiful pictures and choice works of art, and showed… an instinctive and keen sense of harmony in color”(Josephine Mellen Ayer, a Memoir, Cassandra Southwick and Lawrence Southwick, New York, 1900, p. 53). After passing through generations of the Ayer’s family, La captive entered the collection of William Henry Haussner in 1954. Together with his wife Frances, William built a collection to display on the walls of their famous Baltimore restaurant.  Surrounding the diners, every inch of wall space was covered with paintings, including William Bouguereau's Après le bain (1894) which features the same model as the standing figure in La Captive.


We are grateful to Charles Pearo for his assistance in cataloguing this work and for providing the note. Mr. Pearo is currently preparing the forthcoming Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau catalogue raisonné.