As someone who was just recently splashing around in the ocean on Miami’s South Beach – the water was luxuriously lukewarm, by the way – I can’t help but feel amused by this painting by William Bouguereau. Unquestionably a gifted draughtsman and painter, hero to academic art devotees, Bouguereau doesn’t even attempt to convey realism here in terms of the overall scene. Now I don’t really like to deconstruct art in a disparaging way (unless it’s by an artist I don’t like!) And persnickety fault-finding just isn’t nice. But some details of this painting are so flagrantly inauthentic that, in this case, they really bother me. They bother me not because they are unforgivable or offensive in any way but simply because they strip the scene of it’s true essence.
Artists “cut and paste” all the time. The practice of drawing a nude in the studio and then transferring it onto a canvas and placing it into a different setting is very common. No big secret there. As a model it’s been done to me many times, and Bouguereau very obviously did it here. But look at those hands. The model’s fingers are turning over an edge, probably from her original posing platform, and Bouguereau didn’t adjust them to even appear as if they’re resting on flat sandy surface. Instead, it looks like there is some convenient ridge under her. The weight of her body doesn’t sink into the sand nor does it seem that any water is even touching her body. The woman is bone dry while sitting amid the surf. Come on William! Who are are fooling! 😆
But in true Bouguereau style, the figure is beautifully done, and the model’s face and direct gaze is adorable, although art historians speculate that the body and face are from two different models. More cutting and pasting. Also, Bouguereau did an amazing job with the figure’s reflection in the sand. I like the painting. I just can’t get past the look of disconnect between the subject and the environment. I was doing the very same thing a few days ago but was a soaked, salty, sunburned frolicking mermaid 🙂
William Bouguereau’s La Vague, or “The Wave”, from 1896: