Challenge: Recreating a Bouguereau Painting

If you’re a realist painter who admire the Old Masters, you’ve probably been tempted to copy a work by William Adolphe Bouguereau. In the opinion of many, Bouguereau was the ultimate classical fine artist. His draughtsmanship was as perfect as human perfection can be, and his sense for rendering the planes and shapes of the human form in subtle gradations of tone and value is dumbfounding, even to this day. To be in front of a Bouguereau painting is to marvel at what oil painting can achieve in the hands of a true master.

I decided to take the challenge of recreating a painting by Bouguereau, at least a part of a painting. My selection was the head of Petite Bergere. After much research, I never found the definitive method the master used in creating his masterpieces. Instead, I opted for adapting my own method focusing my aim on obtaining those subtle gradations and depth that conveys living flesh. Personally, the most difficult thing was to recreate the atmosphere that surrounds the figures and objects that populate an art work by Bouguereau. He employed “sfumato”, but not the point of rendering everything blurry. There are instances where a sharp edge was appropriate to convey the sense of a clear, pristine day, which permeates almost every painting by this artist. In conclusion, I had to take into account his goals rather than imitate a process for achieving those goals.

My painting started with a basic construction of the head using Burnt Umber, Venetian Red and Titanium White to model the face, neck and the hands. As for the colors, I used Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Hookers Green, Turquoise and Cerulean Blue. I glazed these pigments on the flesh layer by layer by themselves, but also mixed with Transparent White on certain specific spots. Liquin Fine Detail was used as the medium for glazing, Linseed Oil with a bit of turpentine for the early stages of modeling.

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