New Bouguereau Exhibition at Milwaukee Art Museum Explores Artist’s Popularity in Gilded Age America

Posted on January 8th, 2019

– More than 40 canvases by William-Adolphe Bouguereau are presented in the first major exhibition showcasing the painter since the 1980s.    –

Milwaukee, Wis. – January 8, 2019 – The work of French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905), who enjoyed remarkable popularity throughout America’s Gilded Age, is the focus of a new exhibition opening Feb. 15, 2019, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Bouguereau & America is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work in nearly 30 years.

“Bouguereau is a defining figure in the history of French art, and an extraordinary painter whose masterful canvases evoke delight and wonder,” said Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, Milwaukee Art Museum. “The story of Bouguereau is the story of the way art rises and falls in popularity, as well as the role dealers, collectors and patrons play in shaping art and taste.”

On view through May 12, 2019, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Bouguereau & America will include more than 40 canvases by the French artist, whose renown peaked in America between the late 1860s and the early 1900s. Bouguereau’s works form the backbone of many museum collections, including Homer and His Guide, a painting purchased by Milwaukee industrialist Frederick Layton in 1888, and which now resides at the Milwaukee Art Museum as part of the Layton Art Collection.

The exhibition pulls together large-scale canvases from museums and private collections in North America, and shares the stories of the people who collected them, in order to examine their popularity and cultural relevance in America. The exhibition is co-organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.  

Revealing the stories of Bouguereau’s American collectors, the exhibition sheds light on how the history of collecting mirrors the religious beliefs, sexual mores and social problems of the period, as well as how the artist’s popularity influenced his subject matter.

Bouguereau delights and confounds us,” said Stanton Thomas, former Curator of European and Decorative Arts, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, now Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, and co-curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition is a brilliant chance to revel in Bouguereau’s paintings and to look a little more carefully at those luscious and perennially popular works.

Bouguereau & America will be on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum from Feb. 15 through May 12, 2019. The exhibition will then travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and be shown from June 22 to Sept. 22, 2019. It will close at the San Diego Museum of Art, where it will be on view from Nov. 9, 2019, to March 15, 2020.

“With this exhibition, we are inviting visitors to look at these paintings not only as historically significant works but also as products of their time, allowing us to contemplate our values today,” said Marcelle Polednik, PhD, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director, Milwaukee Art Museum. “By looking at Bouguereau and his role in the development of the American art collector, we are seeking to spark important conversations about the history and future of art and collecting.”

Bouguereau & America is the Layton Art Collection Feature Exhibition for 2019, part of a series of exhibitions that focuses on bringing fresh scholarship to works that are a part of the Layton Art Collection Inc., one of the founding collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

An activity-filled family guide accompanying the exhibition will be available free of charge with Museum admission.

A full-color exhibition catalogue is being published by Yale University Press with essays by the Bouguereau & America co-curators, as well as a group of distinguished scholars of the subject. The catalogue is sponsored in memory of Dr. Russel Lee Wiener by Dr. Joy Brown Wiener and family, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Needham Horton, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey Wiener and Mr. and Mrs. Lee Russel Wiener.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Supporting sponsors include The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Laskin Family in memory of Myron Laskin, Jr., In memory of Dr. Russel Lee Wiener, Anonymous, Four-Four Foundation, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Kenneth R. Treis, and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Fine Arts Society.

Exhibitions throughout 2019 are made possible by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Visionaries including John and Murph Burke, Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, Joel and Caran Quadracci, Sue and Bud Selig and Jeff Yabuki and the Yabuki Family Foundation.



Gallery Talks
Tues, 1:30 p.m.
Feb 19, March 26, April 23, May 7
With Tanya Paul, Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, Milwaukee Art Museum
Sat., April 6, 1:30 p.m. (in French)
With Béatrice Armstrong of the French Institute of Milwaukee
Free with Museum admission, free for Members

Express Talks
Thurs, noon and 5:30 p.m.
March 7, April 4, May 2 (Meijer Free First Thursdays)

Book Salon: The Age of Innocence
Sat, March 16, 10:30 a.m.
Quadracci Suite
Transport yourself to Gilded Age New York with Edith Wharton’s classic novel The Age of Innocence, a selection inspired by the exhibition. RSVP to lilia.banrevy@mam.org or 414-224-3886. Books are available in the Museum Store and at mam.org/store.

Gilded Age Tours
Sun, March 24, 1–4:30 p.m.
Milwaukee Art Museum & Pfister Hotel
Delve into the Gilded Age in Milwaukee with tours of Bouguereau & America and the art collection at the Pfister Hotel, where afternoon tea also will be served. Participants will travel between the two destinations by coach bus.
$125/$105 Member/$95 Fine Arts Society Member
RSVP to Catherine Sawinski at 414-224-3293.

Lecture: The Pride of the Frontier: Milwaukee’s Gilded Age Art Collectors
Thurs, May 9, 6:15 p.m.
Lubar Auditorium
Discover nineteenth-century Milwaukee’s internationally known collectors of art, including Martha Mitchell, William Metcalf, and Louis Petit, with John Eastberg, executive director of the Pabst Mansion.
Optional reception to follow in Café Calatrava, $35/$30 Member/$25 Fine Arts Society Member.
RSVP for the reception to Catherine Sawinski at 414-224-3293.

Social and Family Programming
MAM After Dark
Fri, 7–11 p.m.
$14/$12 in advance/free for Members
Ten times a year, the Museum stays up late on a Friday night to offer the artiest party in town, with dancing, unconventional tours, cocktails, food, photo booths, DIY and more. Sponsored by Northwestern Mutual

February 15 – Gilded Age Galentine’s
Celebrate the opening of Bouguereau & America, and experience glitz, glamour and the perfect evening out with friends. It’s time to party like it’s 1899.  

March 15 – Quiet Clubbing: Throwback
Meteoric popularity is worth revisiting, whether you’re Bouguereau or Britney. Explore the pop hits of the 1880s in art and the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s in music with headphones that let you pick the soundtrack.

Kohl’s Art Generation Family Sundays: Every Picture Tells a Story
Sun, March 10, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Explore portraits, myths and scenes of life. Play dress-up and sketch your family, mix paint colors and tell your story on canvas. Find inspiration in the exhibition Bouguereau & America. Watch a portrait artist at work and a performance by a storyteller. Welcome graduates from more than 40 years of the Museum’s Junior Docent School Program as they share their stories.



About the Layton Art Collection, Inc.
The Layton Art Collection, Inc., an independent not-for-profit organization, honors the legacy of  English-American Frederick Layton (1827–1919), a prominent businessman, philanthropist and art collector, by supporting and promoting exhibitions and other programming based on the works in the Layton Art Collection. The Layton Art Collection is a founding collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum, a gift to the people of the City of Milwaukee from Mr. Layton that began with a single-patron art gallery known as the Layton Art Gallery in Milwaukee in 1888. Since the mid-1950s, a representative portion of the Layton Art Collection, including substantially all of the core works in the Layton Art Collection, has been on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum.