Painted in 1896, The Wave (or “La Vague”) is William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s most recognizable and most controversial artwork.
In 1881, Bouguereau became president of the Société des Artistes Français. Due to this position, he enjoyed significant influence over the Paris Salon. Bouguereau consequently wielded substantial power over the French art world as a whole.
La Vague was Bouguereau’s submission to the 1896 Paris Salon. It represented the classical approach and subject matter so frequently seen in other William Bouguereau paintings. Indeed, classical images such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Greco-Roman sculpture were a significant influence.
Whilst obvious parallels could also be made with famous Wave depictions (such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave), the western academic tradition was Bouguereau’s main influence. Gustave Courbet’s 1869 depictions of The Wave could have also influenced Bouguereau. Whether Bouguereau actually saw the Courbet artworks remains unknown, however.
Despite this opposition to new approaches, La Vague departed considerably from traditional representations of Venus. Stripped back to its most basic narrative elements (Venus and the sea), the lone woman is the sole focus of the composition.
Seated gracefully on the sand, she appears to almost float above the encroaching tide. Her gaze directly engages the viewer, producing a startling feeling of immediacy.
Today, La Vague is one of the most famous nude paintings in the western tradition. Fascinated by the female form, Bouguereau depicted Venus and bathing women on many occasions.
The “real” woman in The Wave was Odile Charpentier. Charpentier modeled for Bouguereau on several occasions, serving as a creative muse and confidante.
Amongst William-Adolphe Bouguereau art, The Wave is particularly lauded for its stunning accuracy and realism. A master colorist and draftsman, Bouguereau took great pride in his ability to faithfully recreate the natural world.
He often spent hours sketching seemingly tiny and insignificant details (for instance a hand, or ankle), meticulously building-up the final piece. Reflecting this careful working method, Bouguereau also undertook a small graphite study as well as a preparatory oil study before completing La Vague.
Whilst Bouguereau depicts the woman’s body with incredible detail, he gave equal attention to the sea itself. One can almost feel the ocean’s spray and foam, with the moody horizon just visible in the distance.
As a classic Bouguereau nude, The Wave sold for over $700,000 dollars in 1999. Auctioned by Christies, the painting massively exceeded its guide price of $250-350,000.
The following year, Christies auctioned another artwork, La Charité (1878) for a cool $3.53 million.
William Adolphe Bouguereau paintings haven’t always performed this well, however. The artist has gone in and out of fashion over the years. In 2019 La Jeunesse de Bacchus went up for auction at Sotheby’s. In spite of the staggering guide price of $35 million, the painting failed to sell.
Are you looking for William-Adolphe Bouguereau paintings?
19th century French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau artworks often encompass allegorical and mythical scenes with female nudes in a classical setting.
Bouguereau was born in 1825 and died in 1905 and his parents were reasonably successful olive and wine merchants. He Studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon. One of the requirements of the Prix de Rome Prize, which he won jointly in 1850, was that contestants had to produce a submission of an old master paintings reproduction. Bouguereau’s submission was a recreation of The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael.
Bouguereau was fortunate in that he achieved success and fame during his lifetime and his paintings were sold through the successful French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. He was commissioned to paint portraits of the rich and famous and his portrait of the Emperor Napoleon III was completed in 1856.
During his 79 years Bouguereau is known to have painted 822 works of art. Among his most famous paintings are The Birth of Venus and The Bohemian. The Birth of Venus is a large oil on canvas painting being 120 x 86” in original form and it is held at the Musee d’Orsay. The Bohemian 1890 is an oil painting of smaller size at 59 x 42” which is believed to be currently held in a Private Collection.
Bouguereau’s classic nude paintings, The Abduction of Psyche 1895 and Evening Mood are among our most popular oil paintings. The First Kiss, which is also known as Amor and Psyche, Children 1890, is a really delightful William-Adolphe Bouguereau oil painting which is the perfect reproduction on canvas as nursery wall art or for hanging in any children’s room.
We offer a 100% money back guarantee or replacement service. If for any reason you are dissatisfied with your painting please contact us within 7 days of receipt, advising the reason you are unhappy and we will provide you with all the information you need for its return or replacement.
Your painting will be shipped rolled in strong plastic tubing, ready for stretching and/or framing locally. This is the conventional method of transporting hand-painted oil on canvas. Learn more about how your painting is shipped.
Please note that replica oil paintings are finished with an additional 10cm (4") of extra canvas on all sides, allowing ample surplus canvas for stretching and framing.