Why Bouguereau? Thoughts about the 225 of History’s Most Popular Artists from ARC

ARC’s new article about the top 225 most popular artists is interesting but astonishing to read. I love ARC as it is one of the most comprehensive online museums that provides digital reproduction images with amazing quality. But everyone would immediately question the credibility of the list. Why Bouguereau?

The fact that William Bouguereau is the most favorable artist by the ARC can obviously be seen from the enormous number of images provided by the website and from the fact that most of the webpages are decorated Bouguereaurianly. Therefore the popularity of the artists has been tremendously biased by how ARC is campaigning a few artists. With bombing pictures and links around each page, it is no wonder that visitors will more likely to click on William Bouguereau than Augustus John whom is even not represented by ARC.

The absurdity of the list which may be sniffed by scholars with laughs, sadly, reflects how general people may be influenced by the publicity. Even more astounding is that the internet begins to play a critical role in promoting certain artists. True, we can and should deny that the hit count is equivalent to the popularity, but one cannot and should not deny either that ARC’s popularity (through google search engine) definitely may imprint its own taste into some visitors.

The logical is quite simple here. The mistake is that ARC confused the number of views within its website with the real popularity, which is a much bigger and more complicated terminology. How can one measure the popularity of the old masters? By the number of works displayed in the museums? (Then sadly Vemeer cannot take any seat in the top list) By the number of books published? (Well, Bouguereau and Gerome are less studied in United States. After all, each nation has his own champions.) Or by the auction record? (Klimt is ranked after 160.) No one can give a definite answer about the popularity. More importantly, probably talking about popularity is meaningless since art survives only in the most personal involved manner. Unlike Pepsi against Cola, the popularity of art means nothing when it comes to individual.

Thus, it is imprudent that ARC names its own favorable list for the most popular. Through the list, it can be seen that ARC has a preference of French Academy Art or similar style that creates grand and beautiful images with perfected draftsmanship. Bouguereau, if not the best, has seldom be equaled for his culminating skills in such a style.

When the Frick Art and Historical Center at Point Breeze assembled a collection of Bouguereau for the special exhibition about one year ago, it did bring a lot of audience. Behind the unbelievable beautifully painted skin-tone and angle-faced peasant girls, I felt, as those critics in the 1920’s, that they are astonishing but not touching. The strict formality and subjects, accompanied with the expected composition and colors, makes the eyes fatigue quickly just after a few paintings. In other words, Bouguereau belongs to some minority group of artists whose works would arouse more acclaim if standing alone but may stale when combined together. (Interestingly, Met only shows two of William Bouguereau the last time I visited there. By contrast, they have a full room of Corot.)

There is a kind of coldness in all those paintings no matter whether it is about religious or idyllic as if the beautiful girls were cladded not by the immaculate glazes of opulent oil paint, but by Bouguereau’s seriousness. The irony between truly convincing three dimensional volume & human figure and the detachment and exactness of the feeling made me finally understand that Impressionism happened not accidentally as any art would face a sharp turn when a certain style or form reached the climax: At its peak, the art style strangulates instead of inspires. And the depressive residual can still be felt now.

Another interesting observation of the top list is that there is almost no modern or contemporary artists listed. By the fair use standard, unless the artist has died more than 100 years, the image copyright can always be a tacky issue. By totally avoiding the modern or contemporary artists (with some exception probably from other sources), ARC has created an incomplete museum that strikes the contrast between the most updated media format and the anachronous content.

In the end, just a trivia fact: George Inness, Eric’s most favorable painter is only ranked 129. He must regret that he should have clicked the pictures of Inness’ paintings every hour from ARC website.

Full article can be read at:


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