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.
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