William Adolphe Bouguereau was a painter of mythological, religious and historical subjects, as well as portraits and the occasional scene of contemporary genre. He was a pupil of the classicism in the nineteenth century Parisian Academy. His carefully constructed compositions, emphasizing the idealized human figure, are worked through half-tones, to the highest degree of finish.
Bouguereau was the son of an olive oil merchant. He first studied with Louis Sage, a student of Ingres; later he joined the Ecole municipale de dessin et de peinture in Bordeaux and worked under Jean-Paul Alaux. He then moved to Paris after being accepted, with the support of Picot, to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
In 1866 Bouguereau signed an exclusive contract with the powerful Parisian art dealer Goupil. As a result of this he was exposed to large and generous patronage in the USA. In fact almost seventy per cent of his production after 1866 was intended for and sold to, American collectors.
Bouguereau received several second and third class medals and honorable mentions in the late 1840s. In 1850, Baudry received the first class Rome Prize, but as there was a vacancy at the Villa Medicis a special dispensation was made and Bouguereau was also sent to study in Rome. The subject of his prize winning submission was Zenoby found by the shepherds on the banks of the Arax.
As President of the Societe des Artistes Francais, Bouguereau was a crucial member of the Salon jury, and often opposed to the subject matter and techniques of the Impressionists. When Meissonnier formed the breakaway Societe Nationale des Beaux - Arts, the official Salon became known as 'Le Salon Bougereau'.
Bouguereau was perhaps best known for his handling of the female figure in all her forms: idealised nudes, Madonnas, and the first blossoms of womanhood. His painting techinique achieved an unsurpassed degree of finish and luminous coloration, the hallmarks of the French Academy of the late nineteenth century.
The work of Bouguereau is represented in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris as well as museums in Bordeaux, Dijon and La Rochelle, and in the Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco.