I feel like it is time for another hi-res painting post and who better than Bouguereau to post about! I was at the Clark Instituted in Williamstown, Massachusettes last year and was able to take some photos of a selection of their paintings. It is a wonderful museum with some real grand-slam paintings from artists like Sargent, Tadema, Innes and Bouguereau. In fact, Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr is there.
Today’s post though is about another great work with the simple title of Seated Nude. I was able to get some really good photos of the painting. I think the are better captures than anything I have seen out there, including the Clark’s page. That’s not bragging really, there just aren’t good captures of it for some reason.
I think the composition of this painting is really wonderful. Bouguereau’s shapes are always strong. I think if you reduce this painting down to shapes instead of recognizable forms it holds up very well as a pleasing abstract of values. The high contrast reflection in the bottom left is so interesting to me. The light form of the foot leading out of the picture frame feels like a fulcrum on which the figure sits.
Bouguereau paints these cool flesh tones so well. The skin above the nose and on the cheek in the shadow side take on an almost violet cast. Look at how warm the shadows are wherever flesh is reflected into flesh, like the nostrils, the lips, and eyelids.
I love how the hair is simplified but you still get a strong sense of each strand. You can see how in some places the hair is painted over the flesh and in others, like where the hair on the left meets the temple, that semi-transparent paint was painted over that transition. The result is quite convincing, like seeing the roots of the hair under the skin. A beautiful foot! Note the warmth of the shadow where the foot meets the ground, but the cast shadow behind it is very cool. It helps the vitality of the painting and is true to physics to keep the light reflected by the skin warm. Tricky hands almost completely in shadow, but the forms read so strong. All the fingers are foreshortened as well, but Bouguereau knocked it out of the park. There is a neat effect here with the knees. Look at how there is a warm halo around the knee against the dark background. It helps to soften the edge but also gives a sense of warmth emanating from the skin.This shot provides a cool contrast with the finely rendered flesh. The fabric and ground are loosely painted with some impasto and knife work. Look how economical the brushwork is on the fabric. This is very subtle, but it is a good example of how Bouguereau created flesh. On the neck, note how just before the flesh reaches the core shadow, it starts to drop in saturation slight, becoming more grey. Then, once it goes into shadow the saturation increases as the value drops. You can also see the relative intensity of the colors in the creases and folds. It is subtle but very effective.The contrast of the finely rendered areas to portions like the two images below is exciting to the eye as you move around the painting. It can be interesting to reduce a painting to black and white and see how the shapes are organized.
Thanks for giving my post a read. I’d love to read any observations you have made below!