A portrait of Eva and Frances Johnston signed and dated 'W. BOUGUEREAU 1869' (center right) oil on canvas 39 1/2 x 32in (100.3 x 81.3cm)
PROVENANCE: Commissioned by John Taylor Johnston, 3 June 1869, and by descent through the family.
LITERATURE: C. Vendryes, Dictionnaire illustré des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1885, p. 45; M. Vachon, W. Bouguereau, Paris, 1900, p. 149; M.S. Walker, William Bouguereau: A Summary Catalogue of the Paintings, New York, 1991, p. 68; D. Bartoli and F. Ross, William Bouguereau: Catalogue Raisonné of his Painted Work, New York, 2010, pp. 118-19, no. 1869/11.
Born in La Rochelle in 1825, Bouguereau received his first artistic instruction in Bordeaux and shortly thereafter at the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts and in the studio of François-Edouard Picot, a former student of Jaques Louis David and past recipient of the Prix de Rome. With Picot's help and his dedication to his training at the Académie, Bouguereau won the prestigious Prix de Rome scholarship at the mere age of 26, precipitating his immense success as an artist.
Bouguereau was extremely skilled in his portrayal of classical and mythological subjects that were hugely popular at the Paris Salon at the time. His unsurpassed talent in rendering the human form, particularly the tonal subtleties within the flesh and hair, is also evident in the multitude of portraits he completed. The Portrait of Eva and Frances Johnston is a leading example of Bouguereau's ability to capture the likeness of his sitters while retaining their characters. Moreover, the portrait stands as a testament of his considerable reputation as it depicts the daughters of prominent American art collector John Taylor Johnston.
Johnston was among the founders, as well as original president, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he championed Bouguereau as a notable French academic artist in America. Johnston's personal art collection included works by Thomas Cole, Eastman Johnson, J.M.W. Turner, Paul Delaroche, and Jean-Léon Gérôme among others, as well as many other noteworthy works by Bouguereau. The sale of Johnston's collection in 1876 realized $326,000.
Johnston's admiration of Bouguereau's remarkable technical expertise and beauty within his portraits was no doubt the foundation behind this commissioned portrait of Johnston's daughters. His style of expressive colors and meticulous draftsmanship, along with the overall affinity for elegance is an embodiment of true academic style. Bouguereau's skill at capturing all of the nuances within the varying textures is evident here from the girls' glowing complexion and softness of their hair, to the shine of the fabrics and sharpness to the gilt pages of the book. The single source of light illuminating from the right hand edge of the canvas was common practice in the academic technique. Bouguereau has positioned Eva and Frances in an intimate moment as the older daughter reads to her younger sister. The youngest girl engages directly with the viewer, a common practice in Bouguereau's most captivating works, while the elder gazes lovingly at her sister. The incredible attention to detail, within the patterned upholstery of the chair and the lace details on the garments, is a testament to Bouguereau's immense talent and exemplifies the highly refined salon style for which he was a prominent figure.
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