Woman in the Water?

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:

10 thoughts on “Woman in the Water?

  1. LOL This gave me a laugh this morning. You are so right! The model is so disconnected with that background….she ‘s sitting on some kind of transparent acrylic shelf! So odd looking.

  2. Jennifer says:

    You’re right – there are definitely some very disturbing cut & paste aspects to this painting. Glad you’re enjoying your holidays!

  3. Fred says:

    You know how people say things like “If Mozart were alive today he’d be a rock star”? If Bouguereau were alive today his work would be featured on photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com!

    • artmodel says:

      Fred Hatt, you are a merciless man! PhotoshopDisasters? Ok, it’s funny 😆

      Can I assume you won’t be purchasing an art print of Bouguereau’s “La Vague” any time soon?


      • Fred says:

        The model is beautiful. If you just imagine it as a picture of a model sitting on a seamless backdrop print of a wave it’s fine.

        But seriously, PhotoshopDisasters makes a strong case for why artists, even if they are only aspiring to be digital mouse jockeys, should take life drawing and understand human anatomy. The great majority of the disasters featured on the site are the result of ignorance of the human figure!

  4. LK says:

    If physics plays a role here, then she’s smiling quite happily in spite of the fact she’s about to get smacked and drenched by a large wave.

    Anyways, you on the beach in Miami, now that’s a sight worth dreaming of.

    Hope you’re back into the swing of things well enough after that kind of vacation…


  5. Great minds run in small circles (& smaller minds run in smaller circles?), like Fred, the first thing that crossed my mind was poor photoshopping.

  6. paul darst says:

    I agree that the girl does not look like she is anywhere near waves like that. However, there are rocky places along the shore, even in southeast Florida (where I grew up), and she could well be clutching a limestone outcropping, not wet sand.

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