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Baltimore Benefactor Donates Bouguereau Painting to the Walters Art Museum

Location of William Adolphe Bouguereau?s The Cherry Picker Unknown to Scholars for Over 90 Years

Media Contacts:
Amy Mannarino                         
410-547-9000, ext. 277                             
Hetty Lipscomb
410-547-9000, ext.394

Location of William Adolphe Bouguereau’s The Cherry Picker Unknown to
Scholars for Over 90 Years

Baltimore—An important work by 19th-century French academic painter William Adolphe Bouguereau was donated recently to the Walters Art Museum by Baltimore native Dorothy Bair. Entitled Une Petite fille ceuillant des cérises (in English, The Cherry Picker), the painting shows a sweet-faced girl on tip-toe reaching for a handful of ripe fruit from a low-hanging tree branch. With its classical forms and gently sentimental subject matter, The Cherry Picker is a strong example of Bouguereau’s mature style and compliments the extensive collection of 19th-century work amassed by the museum’s founder, William Walters.

The whereabouts of The Cherry Picker has been unknown to scholars for over ninety years; it had not been illustrated in the literature on Bouguereau before now, nor was it included in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ major monographic exhibition of the artist in 1984–1985. When Bouguereau completed the painting in 1871, it was sold first to the influential Paris-based dealer, Adolphe Goupil, who then turned around and sold it to New York-based dealer Samuel Putnam Avery. The work remained in the United States and was eventually acquired at auction by the Bair family in 1943. Bair fondly remembers the painting hanging in the family’s living room in Baltimore, and it was her generous decision to donate the work to the Walters.

“To specialists, the reappearance of this major canvas is truly breathtaking,” commented Eik Kahng, curator and head of 18th- and 19th- century art at the Walters. Reflecting the popular tastes of his time, William Walters was an avid collector of French academic work, snapping up canvases by Paul Delaroche, Jean-Leon Gérôme and Lawrence Alme-Tadema that are now displayed in the Walters’ galleries. “Of all the academic stars of Williams Walters’ day, Bouguereau was the sole artist absent from his superb collection,” added Kahng. “We are therefore especially delighted to have this wonderful gift come our way.”

As a part of his rigorous artistic training, Bouguereau studied in Rome where he was influenced by the classical past and Renaissance masters, evidenced by the graceful figure of The Cherry Picker. Bouguereau used the same young model for another painting showing a mother holding a conch shell to her daughter’s ear, currently in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum. Painted during Bouguereau’s retreat to his hometown of New Rochelle, such idyllic imagery likely allowed the artist some respite from the tumult of the Paris Commune and found a ready market among American collectors.

With the ascent of modernist sensibilities in art throughout the 20th-century, Bouguereau and other French academic painters fell out of favor. Yet, “recent revisionist art history has reinstated academic art to its deserving place in the history of 19th-century visual culture,” emphasized Kahng, “a phenomenon that is confirmed by the skyrocketing prices now fetched by works of this type at auction.” The Cherry Picker is currently on view in the Walters’ 19th-century gallery.

The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets. Its permanent collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500.

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