How To Paint Photo Realistic Portraits: William Adolphe Bouguereau

The Little Knitter Oil on Canvas
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, FL, US

William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French painter. He is the artist whose photo-realistic paintings are estimated to fetch above $30 to $35 Million. That's how a precious art piece is valued. 

Bouguereau painted mythological events with a realistic approach. His apprenticeship under the master artist Francois Eduardo Picot equipped him with the armoury he needed for the realistic painting. He painted mythological subjects; he painted common people; he painted small children. He painted everything with the photo-realistic style of painting.  

If an artist is not imaginative, he or she is nothing: that is a golden rule in the world of art. While doing a portrait of a person, while painting a living person, this quality of an artist is put to the test. The Portrait in which an artist has injected his or her feeling is a portrait of the artist and not of the sitter. That's the feeling of many artists and art-lovers. Such profound is the art of portrait making; as it requires total involvement of the painter.  Bouguereau had acquired all of these skills. His paintings are greatly admired and are in great demand across the continents. 

Girl with a pomegranate 
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
The Art Institute of Chicago 

Let us discuss some great paintings done by him.

Look at this painting Girl with a Pomegranate. It is displayed sometimes as Girl of Granada, too. 

This painting was estimated to fetch $500,000 to 700,000, at Sotheby. But it was sold for $2,322,500. 

Bouguereau was the son of an olive oil merchant; he was a staunch traditionalist French painter. Though he preferred both realistic and mythological themes to decorate his canvases, he had presented the subjects with newer and fresh interpretations of the classical subjects he had selected to paint. Though he chose the beauty of women as his subjects, he did represent his art in painting the rural children and rural women, too. Here the young woman is looking with her thoughtful eyes. You know,  Bouguereau would never paint a face expressionless. There would be action and expression of the faces he painted. Perhaps this was the reason for making his paintings widely popular and the clients commissioned him generously.

What Is Portrait Painting: Portrait painting is a subtle communication of a set of expressions on the face of a model or the person sitting for his or her portrait. The artists while making a portrait of a person mostly require the person in front of the canvass. Though some painters prefer to work on the base of the photographic references, especially in the case of the model is a child. Here are some of the portraits of ladies, depicting their beauty and modesty, painted by the master artist William Adolphe Bouguereau. These are some of his most noteworthy portraits.

Peasant Burden Oil on  Canvas
William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Volume and three-dimensional are the words that walk parallel to the art of sculpture. But when we feel the sense of volume while looking at a painted object, it must be the skill of the artist who used the shades of colours so marvellously, strokes of brushes so perfectly. William-Adolphe Bouguereau was such an artist.

Perhaps no other painters had given so lively and photorealistic treatment to the figures as the master artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau had given. The manner in which he painted movements; the artistic prowess which he displayed in painting face tones of women, and the beauty he packed into the female figures he painted: these all speak out that he was master in creating compatibility between colours and forms.

In doing so he did capture every aspect of the human body, every tender nuance of the personality of the models sitting before his canvases. He gave life to the subtlest fraction of the human body in his figurative paintings.

He also tried embedding the moods of the model into paintings, catching the soul of the figure before his eyes. Bouguereau, the painter of the photo-realistic approach, had created an idealised world. He put life into the concepts of goddesses, nymphs, bathers, shepherdesses, and Madonna by painting these characters on canvases. 

The Storm    Oil on Canvas
William-Adolphe Bouguereau

When we look at a painting by a master painter like Edgar Degas or Turner, we would not miss seeing the magical effects they are capable to create. They know the science of colour. Every colour has its own aesthetic value. However understanding such aesthetic element is purely a subjective issue, the master artist like Bouguereau would make us enjoying it by artistic skill.  

Here in this painting The Storm, Bouguereau had painted the storm: the storm in the eyes of two innocent girls, the storm in the roaring water of the sea in the background, and the storm lurking in the sky. Look at the facial expressions and the fear-element in the eyes of the two girls. The artist has poured all of his capabilities as a portrait maker, as a master painter, into this painting. 

Bouguereau artistic insistence for perfection in painting the contours of the figures he painted had generated a good clientele in wealthy people of nineteenth-century France. Bouguereau’s commitment to the creations of photo-realistic paintings had appealed to his art-lover patrons. Portrait Painting is an Art that makes two persons immortal: one the person portrayed and another the artist who portrayed. A well-painted portrait would show the inner qualities of the person whose portrait is done, as the aim of an artist can't be limited to painting the contours of the face and nose and forehead of the person being portrayed. [All the paintings above are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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