Lot 417
  • 417


350,000 - 550,000 USD
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  • After William Bouguereau
  • Innocence 
  • signed W-BOUGUEREAU- and dated 1873 (upper right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 25 1/2 by 21 1/2 in.
  • 64.8 by 54.6 cm


Goupil & Cie., Paris, no. 7870 (acquired directly from the artist, April 1873, as Jeune fille et agneau (buste))
Johannes Borski, Amsterdam (acquired from the above)
Private Collection, Europe (and sold, Christie's, New York, April 23, 2002, lot 18, illustrated)
Richard Green, London
Private Collection
Acquired from the above


Charles Vendryès, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 49
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 151
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. 69
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, His Life and Works, New York, 2010, p. 231, illustrated pl. 199; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 231, pl. 199
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Works, New York, 2010, p. 149, no. 1873/05, illustrated; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 149, no. 1873/05, illustrated
Frederick C. Ross and Kara Lysandra Ross, William Bouguereau: The Essential Works, Suffolk, 2018, p. 223, illustrated 


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has been restored and could be hung in its current state. The canvas has an old glue lining. The surface is attractive. Although remnants of an old varnish can be seen under ultraviolet light, no retouches are apparent. It is possible that there may be older retouches beneath this varnish addressing slight thinness in the darker colors, but close examination with the naked eye does not reveal any weakness except possibly in the upper right, lower right and in the shadowed hand. The condition seems to be very good overall.
"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

When he is at his best, William Bouguereau manages to present the secular subject as sacred, raising a common shepherd, peasant or beggar to the Divine. The figure and lamb of Innocence seem to radiate light, contributing to a dream-like universe of peace and serenity that is exquisite and transcendent. While there are no overt religious references in this painting, the image of the shepherdess conjures Mary, mother of Christ, the shepherd.Images of peasants were enormously popular among collectors in the late nineteenth century and Bouguereau's paintings, particularly those so masterfully executed as the figure in Innocence, were irresistible to them. This was equally due to his virtuoso technique as well as the enthusiastic dedication that his dealer, Goupil, brought to his distribution. Demand would often outweigh supply and Bouguereau would produce works on the same theme or from the same source of inspiration. For instance, the model and plaid scarf depicted in Innocence also appears in Fileuse (1873, Private Collection), Tarantelle (1873, Private Collection) and L'agneau nouveau-né (sold in these rooms, May 22, 2018, lot 25, fig. 1), to which the present painting is closely related. All four works were painted in the first half of 1873, and Goupil's records show that they purchased Innocence directly from the artist's studio in April 1873, which was later followed by their purchase of L'agneau nouveau-né in July of the same year. It is reasonable to assume that Innocence was painted first, presenting the elegant kernel of an idea that he would later expand into the larger, full-length canvas.

The shepherdess is a recurring theme throughout Bouguereau's oeuvre and here she is a symbol of maternal love, caring for her flock. This young, contemplative woman holds the lamb in her arms as she might a newborn babe, and Bouguereau takes the opportunity to create an enduring and meditative image. At the same time, the composition's smooth brushwork erases the presence of the painter, and creates a balance between immobile, static form and rich surface details.

While it is not often recognized, Bouguereau is a superb painter of animals, and the lamb's expression here is as clearly rendered as its downy coat. Rosa Bonheur, who kept a farm’s worth of animal at her atelier in Paris, had lived just down the street from Bouguereau before escaping the city to her Château de By, and it is possible that the artist used her animals as models in his works.