WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU AND STUDIO
signed W-BOUGUEREAU (lower left)
oil on canvas
48¾ by 25½ in.
123.8 by 64.8 cm
Goupil & Cie., Paris, no. 15571 (acquired directly from the artist, July 1881)
Samuel P. Avery, New York (acquired from the above, May 1883)
Knoedler & Co., New York, no. A2660 (by 1943)
Sigmund Ojerkis, Atlantic City, New Jersey (acquired by 1946)
Hammer Galleries, New York (acquired by 1950)
Sale: Christie's, New York, May 2, 1979, lot 57 (as The Water Nymph)
Private Collection, New Jersey
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, May 7, 1998, lot 47, illustrated
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, October 26, 2004, lot 76, illustrated
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby's, New York, May 4, 2012, lot 13, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Hartford, The Wadsworth Atheneum, The Nude in Art, January 2-February 3, 1946, no. 7 (lent by Sigmund Ojerkis)
Charles Vendryès, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 62 (as Réduction de l'aurore)
Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 154
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. 71
Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross, William Bouguereau, Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, p. 205, no. 1881/01A, illustrated; and in the revised 2014 edition, p. 205, no. 1881/01A, illustrated
Between 1881 and 1884, following the success of Naissance de Vénus (1879, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), Bouguereau embarked upon a series of four panels representing the hours of the day. They comprise L'aurore, (Dawn, 1881, Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama), Le crepuscule (Dusk, 1882, Cuban National Museum, Havana), La nuit (Night, 1883, Hillwood Museum, Washington, D.C.), and Le jour (Day, Private collection). These works each celebrate feminine beauty and represent an exceptional output in a short period of time by the artist. When viewed together, the purposeful compositional devices and harmonious color palettes of each individual canvas create an extraordinary whole.
In L'aurore, a graceful nymph floats above a pond of water lilies, a symbol of enlightenment that closes with the setting of the sun, and reaches for the trumpet-like blossom of the calla lily, which has long served as a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, a particularly apt choice for this allegory of the new day. L'aurore was the first in the series to be exhibited at the Paris Salon and its particular popularity is suggested by the present work, a reduction of the subject, as well as several finely finished drawings and an etching, the only one the artist attempted himself (Bartoli, p. 204-5). Allegorical works like L'aurore captured the public's imagination, with the writer Edouard Thierry eloquently expressing its appeal: "M. Bouguereau does not conceive art without grace or grace without decency, and I congratulate him for it.... L'aurore is a nimble figure, half nude, half enveloped by a veil which plays in the air. She does not fly, she does not walk, but glides upon the surface of a body of calm water, still quiet, and without causing any ripples. The water remains like a mirror, a mirror barely tarnished by a little morning mist, and to the surface of this mirror rises the reflection of a twin toe coming to caress the other. As she glides along, the goddess graciously inclines her head towards an arum flower which she approaches with her lips, and sips the dew from the white porcelain cone. All this is of very pure taste, and beautifully drawn" (as quoted in Baschet, p. 62).
Bouguereau's studio, which included accomplished artists Pierre August Cot, Alfred Henri Bramtot, and Gustave Doyen, participated extensively in the painting of the reduced versions of his Salon works after 1870. However, Bouguereau always maintained rigid control over his studio, applying the final touches to his works before signing them. In many cases it is almost impossible to differentiate between those areas of the canvas painted by Bouguereau and those worked on by his students, particularly since before adding his signature to any work, the artist would make any corrections he felt were necessary to make the reduction an accurate copy of the original. Records indicate that L'aurore (réduction) was acquired directly from the artist and sold through Goupil's gallery in 1881 as was the reduction of Le crepuscule (sold in these rooms in October 23, 1990, lot 63).