Great Painter of the Day: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Maybe you woke up this morning and wondered, “Who is the greatest painter?” Maybe you even thought of an answer, like da Vinci or Rembrandt. But you were wrong.

The right answer, of course, is William-Adolphe Bouguereau. He lived in France from 1825 to 1905, which is really the luckiest of all possible circumstances.

This guy was a real Renaissance man. Just the first few Wikipedia paragraphs describe how young William was not only a talented artist, but a serious student of human anatomy, archaeology, mythology and the classics. He studied art in Rome for a year when he was 26, which must have been a welcome reprieve from boring, ugly Paris. He also made extra cash by designing labels for jam, which is the most pleasant thing I’ve ever heard of.

He was an “academic painter,” which means he was associated with the Academie de beaux-arts in Paris. This art school trained its students to paint in a sort of classical, mythological, romantic style. Because of his success in this style, Bouguereau was loathed by the impressionists, which frankly is another notch in his column.

Bouguereau completed over 800 paintings in his lifetime, but since this is a blog about church stuff I am focusing only on the religious paintings here.

I love these paintings because while they look very realistic, there is some mystical quality about them that just feels … other. Sacred. The throne, the postures, the abstract backgrounds remind me of Eastern icons. Like Dr. Taylor Marshall (who writes about the Vierge Consolatrix or Virgin of Consolation), I tend to be drawn to Marian art and I love that Our Lady seems at once so powerful and so graceful.

My favorite is the Pietá. Mary, weeping, looks directly at the viewer … she knows who is responsible for her son’s death.


The blue angel on top reminds me of a mourner from Giotto’s Lamentation (my other favorite painter).


What do you think? Who’s your favorite religious painter?