William Bouguereau
The Oreads

The Oreads
William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
The Oreads
1902
Oil on Canvas
H. 236; W. 182 cm
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Les Oréades [The Oreads]


The Oreads are the nymphs of mountains and grottoes (the most well known is Echo), who were said to come out in joyful, lively groups to hunt deer, chase wild boar and bring down birds of prey with their arrows. At Diana’s signal, they would come running to join her, forming a dazzling retinue behind her. The 1902 catalogue for the Salon gave this lengthy commentary after the title of the painting: "The shadows are dissipating; dawn appears, radiant, and colours the mountain tops pink. Then a long procession soars up into the sky: it is the joyful band of nymphs who, during the night, frolicked in the shadow of the forests and by the still waters of the river; they take to the air, watched by the astonished fauns, to return to their own realm and the ethereal regions inhabited by the gods".

With this painting, Bouguereau shows himself to be firmly attached to his ideal of academic painting. As in another painting at Musée d'Orsay, The Assault, the mythological subject here is a pretext to demonstrate his outstanding drawing skills, capable of capturing all the attitudes and expressions of the human body. The mythological subject also enables him to introduce an erotic element without lapsing into bawdiness (the lust in the eyes of the Satyrs is, in this respect, unambiguous).
With this flight of female figures, Bouguereau boldly produced a painting that was highly imaginative and suffused with poetry, perceptible in the twilight landscape of the background, worthy of Corot, and tinged with Symbolist tones.




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