WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU | LA PARESSEUSE
1825 - 1905
signed W-BOUGUEREAU- and dated 1901 (lower right)
oil on canvas
61¾ by 30⅜ in.
156.8 by 77.2 cm
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Paris, no. 1143 (acquired directly from the artist, 1901)
Blair (acquired from the above, 1901)
Senator John F. Dryden, Bernardsville, New Jersey (and sold, his estate, American Art Association, New York, February 16, 1939, lot 41, illustrated)
N.C. Baker (acquired at the above sale)
Richard L. Cawood, East Liverpool, Ohio (after February 1939)
Sarah L. Cawood Roberts, Sewickley, Pennsylvania (gifted from the above, her father, January 1940)
Thence by descent
Possibly, "Art Notes," Evening Star, Washington, D.C., May 21, 1904, p. 23
Mark Steven Walker, "William Bouguereau: A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings," William Adolphe Bouguereau, L’Art Pompier, exh. cat., Borghi & Co., New York, 1991, p. 75
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 341, no. 1901/02, illustrated p. 340; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 341, no. 1901/02, illustrated p. 340
Possibly, Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1904-05 (lent by Senator John F. Dryden)
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2016-17 (on extended loan, lent by Sarah L. Cawood Roberts)
Throughout the Gilded Age, from the late 1860s to the early 1900s, no American collection was complete without a painting by William Bouguereau. The artist’s fame was promoted through his international dealers, gallery exhibitions, innovative advertising, and widely circulated reproductions — including a postcard featuring a photograph of the artist standing in front of La paresseuse (see Bartoli and Ross, p. 341). As with so many of Bouguereau’s paintings, particularly those of children, La paresseuse was sold soon after its completion in 1901 to an American collector and has remained in the United States ever since. Bouguereau's commitment to the genre built his unrivaled international reputation and fueled demand from his American audience, who saw an emotive composition of a peasant child, such as La paresseuse, as a reflection of their taste, refinement, and stature.
The young fruit picker of the present work is either Jeanne or Marguerite, the sisters of Yvonne, one of his favorite models. While little is known about their personal biographies, their growth from infants to adolescents can be followed through a decade of compositions; they provided inspiration for works the artist painted in La Rochelle from 1893 through the early 1900s. The artist captures the “lazy girl” in languid stretch as she breaks from her chore, the basket full of blush-ripe fruit. There is a naturalistic truth to Bouguereau’s representation of the youth with her rough-spun blue cloth dress, a white sleeve fallen down her extended arm, the other arm bent behind her head. The casualness of the pose disguises the careful study of the artist, and his trademark smooth brushwork erases his presence, creating a balance between immobile, static form, and rich surface details, textures and colors. Emphasizing both her rural harvest and nearly life-size stature, Bouguereau placed the model in a tall vertical space, the sun-filled break in the trees creating depth while the sloped foreground projects the girl forward into the viewer’s space. As with many of the artist’s portraits of shepherdesses or other young rural workers, the “paresseuse” engages with the viewer, her sidelong glance acknowledging the interruption of her momentary rest.
The real and ideal aspects of La paresseuse allowed it to be both connected yet apart from the daily life of the nineteenth century — the very quality that made Bouguereau’s work so highly desirable to his American audience, even as they began to embrace “modern” artists like the Impressionists. Collectors such as Catholina Lambert, the silk manufacturer from New Jersey, owned Bouguereau’s The Little Pilferers, and hung it among his extensive collection of Impressionist paintings (Eric M. Zafran, “William Bouguereau in America, a Roller-coaster Reputation,” In the Studios of Paris, William Bouguereau & His American Students, exh. cat., 2006, p. 27). Similarly La paresseuse joined a work by Claude Monet in the collection of John F. Dryden (1839-1911) the founder of Prudential Insurance Company and a United States Senator from New Jersey. Dryden’s vast fortune (estimated to be as much as $50 million upon his death) afforded him, as reported in the Evening Star, “such a collection as one would expect to find in a first-class public gallery rather than a private house…. [Senator Dryden] has not only got paintings by men of great renown, but he has delightful examples of each which represent the painters at their best." ("Art Notes," p. 23). Dryden’s collection included many of the most sought-after artists of the nineteenth century such as Jean-François Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Félix Ziem, Martin Rico y Ortega Rico, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Works by these artists hung together with La paresseuse and Monet’s Dawn at Antibes in Dryden’s 30,000 square foot Bernardsville, New Jersey brownstone castle named “Stronghold” (fig. 1). A staff of fifty people kept up the self-sustaining property with ice house, water tower, generators, greenhouse, and a farm. Dryden lent thirty-two paintings from his collection, including a work by Bouguereau, possibly La paresseuse (Dryden reportedly owned another work by the artist of a young knitter, which was noted on view when the exhibition was rehung in 1905) and Dawn at Antibes, to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. This marked the first public exhibition of a Monet in Washington, and the work notably was on view alongside, as a journalist noted, Dryden’s “Bouguereau which is… delightful in color and skillful in rendering” (“Art Notes,” p. 23).
In the years following Dryden’s death, La paresseuse was auctioned as part of his estate, and by 1939 was part of the collection of industrialist Richard L. Cawood, the president of the Patterson Foundry. Cawood had an active interest in European art and architecture, and over ten years designed and developed his East Liverpool, Ohio home into a unique and distinct interpretation of Italian Renaissance Revival style, with Spanish eclectic additions including a large round tower, porte cochere, and a chapel (the impressive home was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1988; Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places, vol. 2, St. Clair Shores, Michigan, 1999, p. 155). In 1940, La paresseuse was gifted to Cawood’s daughter Sarah "Sally" Cawood Roberts, herself a talented artist, where it was enjoyed by her family for nearly eighty years before being lent to the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, where the painting’s young model charmed a new generation of audiences.
The powerful relationship between Bouguereau, his work, and his wealthy patrons throughout the United States is the focus of the Bouguereau & America exhibition at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Opened in February 2019, it is the first major exhibition on the artist since the 1980s, and will travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art. Among the forty-plus works on view are those of young girls, like La paresseuse, painted on a large scale and with Bouguereau's characteristic Academic finesse which were particularly appealing to American collectors of the Gilded Age and today.