The Bouguereau Women series of watercolour paintings comprised the second of my final grad projects in university. For each painting I selected a work by romantic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) that I would use as reference to paint a master copy using watercolours, only with a few changes. Most notably the heads of the women were changed into the heads of various animals instead.
There are a lot of themes I was exploring while making this series. Identity, beauty, allegory, and aversion, to name a few. For Bouguereau, art was all about capturing the beauty, the sublime, the perfection of the world and elevating it. He didn’t see the point in painting anything which was, to him, ugly or imperfect. A number of the women in his paintings were models he painted again and again, from childhood to adulthood; you can watch these women age in his work, yet he never painted their portraits. They were always depicted as icons: Shepherdess, Bather, Knitter. Beauty and the sublime won out over painting these women for who they truly were.
I was thinking of all of these things while making this series. There was something that tickled me in taking these beautiful, perfect portraits of women and subverting them slightly towards the unnerving. How does the feel of the image change when, instead of the gaze of a beautiful, iconic woman, it is now the cold, appraising stare of an animal? It was also a really compelling technical exercise; Bouguereau really was a master painter, and I learned so much in creating these master copies.
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