Lot 416
  • 416

WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU | Fleurs de printemps

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • After William Bouguereau
  • Fleurs de printemps 
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU- and dated 1878 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 46 1/4 by 22 1/2 in.; 117.5 by 57.2 cm


Goupil & Cie, Paris, no. 12787 (acquired directly from the artist, May 1878, as Enfant portant des fleurs)
Knoedler & Co., New York, no. 1604 (acquired from the above, March 1879)
Josiah M. Fiske, New York (acquired from the above, April 1879, as Summer)
Martha Fiske Collord, New York (widow of the above)
George W. Collord, New York (bequeathed from the above, his wife)
Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts (gifted from the estate of the above circa 1914, as Little Flower Girl)
Knoedler & Co., New York, no. C 5893 (acquired March 1926)
Hanna Thomson, Detroit (acquired in August 1926)
John Levy Galleries, New York 
J.J. Gillespie & Co., Pittsburgh
Acquired from the above circa 1930


Charles Vendryès, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 58 (as Fleur de Printemps, Gravé par Varin.- Goupil.)
Franqueville, Le premier siècle de l'Institut de France, Paris, 1895
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, 1991, p. 70
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 182, no. 1878/08, illustrated p. 183; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 182, no. 1878/08, illustrated p. 183


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is lined, and the paint layer is stable. There are no retouches in the face or figure, except for one spot on the right side of the thigh on the right. There are no retouches in the ground or in the floral still life. The area above her shoulders and around her hair has only been selectively cleaned in a few vertical spots in the upper left and an area in the upper right. An earlier image of this painting shows a more elaborate arrangement of hair, and this larger hairstyle was covered with a non-original layer of paint. An older varnish is clearly visible under ultraviolet light in the upper background. There are also a few retouches on either side of the profile of the hair to resolve some of the previous cosmetic restoration. The work can be presented in its current state.
"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

Emerging from a dark, sylvan background, the young girl in Fleurs de printemps radiates light. Golden and nymph-like, with loose blonde curls framing her face, she gazes directly and intently at the viewer. Her hands and interwoven fingers are rendered with exquisite tenderness, carrying the riotous bundle of spring wildflowers in her arms, a showcase of the technical virtuosity which led William Bouguereau to become the greatest French Academic painter of his era, championed by French dealers Adolphe Goupil and, later, Paul Durand-Ruel.  Beginning in the 1870s, Bouguereau shifted his subject away from neoclassical subjects and religious commissions towards idyllic and timeless depictions of childhood and beauty. Local children from around La Rochelle served as models for his paintings, and his naturalistic technique allows viewers to watch them grow as they reappear in compositions over the years. For instance, the model in Fleurs de printemps appears in the earlier Fleurs de champs (1876, location unknown) and again as the cherubic girl in La prière (1878, Private Collection), and Le Livre de Fables (1877, Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Fleurs de printemps is an evocative depiction of youth, innocence and beauty, echoed by the intimately rendered flowers. Bouguereau’s interest in landscapes and still lifes is seen throughout his oeuvre, often including a group of oranges or apples, a bunch of grapes, or cluster of daisies, and in the present work he indulges in a lush explosion of flowers. The freshly picked verdant bundle is dotted with vivacious hues of red, pink, yellow, white and violet flowers of various species. Just like the little girl’s white chemise and clean hands and feet, the flowers appear to be free of soil and pristinely presented. Central and uncontained, they are the focus of the painting as much as she is.

As with many of Bouguereau’s paintings, the present work was quickly sold to an American collector through Goupil’s partner, Knoedler, in New York. Untraced since 1926, it has been known through Goupil’s period photograph, widely reproduced and so popular that another version was commissioned with the figure seen at three-quarter length.