“i keep sitting down to write you about this painting… and each time i draw a blank… it is a favorite of mine… a poster of it welcomes you into my studio …” — Donald Langosy, 2016
Of late I’ve become quite bold in asking people to share with me in words and sometimes images the beauty that they experience. I want to understand why a certain piece of music heard, a poem read, or a moment in a certain field can move them so deeply. In painter Donald Langosy’s case, I wanted to know why he was so moved by Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr (1873), a painting held in the collection of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. I’d learned from Langosy’s daughter that, as with Titian, it was a work of art Langosy might like to see in person one day. And so I asked him to please tell me why, and as I waited for his words, I did a little bit of my own research into this Bouguereau.
Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French figurative painter noted for producing rather luminous works with Classical, mythological and religious themes. His work was very popular with the European and American public during his lifetime. He received top prices for his work. He not only painted portraits, but he also decorated private homes, churches and public buildings.
Quite prolific, he apparently produced over 800 finished paintings. In addition, beginning in the 1860s he taught at the Academie Julian in Paris. Among his many students over the years he would teach Henry Ossawa Tanner and Ellen Day Hale. As I read criticism about his work from across the different decades, both the words beautiful and escapist were applied. During the height of Bouguereau’s career there was a new movement starting in the French art scene, Impressionism. Many within this new school were not enamored of Bouguereau’s work and actively belittled it. Despite the controversy surrounding his subject matter, so polished and dreamy during an age of great turmoil, few denied the mastery of his technique.
“sadly,” notes Langosy, “Bouguereau is remembered for his unending number of paintings of little girls and poetically posed young virginal women…. which is unfortunate… for it distracts from his many accomplishments…like this one, which is among the finest masterpieces ever painted…”
“…compositionally outstanding…. but outstanding because of the remarkable brush work… which is brilliant because of his command of color and line….. the sensual twirl feeling of the nymphs… the satyr in a diagonal angle attempting to brace himself against their attempts to over power him… Bouguereau’s subtle sense of line accenting the individual rhythms of the different poses…”
“…rhythm of line is what creates three dimension on a two dimensional plane…. and then there are the leaves and grass and the water… egads!….i’m speechless… i haven’t written enough about this painting… but now you will understand why it took me this long to write”
And that is how I came to learn of nymphs, satyrs and appreciate the work of Bouguereau through the words of Donald Langosy.
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