Cognitive Champagne (Thought Bubbles): Impressionism and Bouguereau

Another glimpse into the mind of Morgen B…


I stumbled onto the artwork of William Adolphe Bouguereau this afternoon and was struck by a thing or two. First- I really dig his style. I also think my sister looked like a lot like a Bouguereau painting when she was little, but maybe only for the brooding expression and beautiful hands.

Little Girl, William Adolphe Bouguereau

Little Girl, William Adolphe Bouguereau

After finishing the Honors 200 Humanities sequence last semester and very briefly studying impressionistic art, I had a thought that Kelly enjoyed. I believe the way I phrased it was, “I wish my life was an impressionist painting”.

And what I think I meant at the time was that I wish my life had that vibrant, rosy glow of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party or The Seine at Asnières. There is something about the detail of each little stroke in impressionism that makes me wistful, but the thing about impressionism is that the detail is in the stroke, not in the formation of the subject itself, so the subject of each painting is not, in fact, portrayed in great detail. So each painting is somewhat hazy, like a memory or a summer evening. Renoir particularly impressed me with the way he managed to capture the movement of water and natural scenes. However, the realism of the natural elements contrasts with the elusiveness of the human characters (A Girl with Watering Can). Maybe that’s just how the cookie crumbled, but I think it points to the somewhat uncomfortable idea that we are not one with nature. We stick out, we can’t be pinned down. Humans don’t quite fit in. And as hard as we try, there is this constant evolution and maybe even dissonance occuring. So while the water on the Seine is in constant motion, water in and of itself is quite constant. But “a self is always becoming” (Madeleine L’Engle).

So maybe all along I wanted to be Bouguereau painting. A finished, polished (though perhaps somewhat brooding and mischevious) version of myself. But I think I could take a lesson from the impressionists- I am not an ideal form. Like the river I have movement and splotches and motion yet to come. And like the members of the boating party there is the ruddy, unidealized glow of life inside me and inside everyone. The impressionists remind us that there is beauty and consistency in nature. And there is also beauty and consistency in human nature as well, but something perhaps more complex and elusive that can’t be captured as easily.


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