A critic once described Bouguereau, one of the most successful academic artists of his era, as "finding the exact tone that pleases fashionable society, the point at which acceptable coquetry degenerates into scandal." The artist’s glossy style is on full display in Nymphs and Satyr.
When the painting debuted at the Salon of 1873, Bouguereau set the scene with a quotation from the first-century Latin poet Publius Statius, describing the goat-god Pan: "Conscious of his shaggy hide, and from childhood untaught to swim, he dares not trust himself to the deep waters." In Bouguereau’s imaginative depiction of Pan’s predicament, four sprites gleefully drag the swarthy satyr into the water as a second bevy of nudes approaches.
Critics were not entirely convinced by Bouguereau’s "aristocratically seductive" nymphs. As one reviewer wrote: "[They are] very pretty, slim and elegant like high-life Parisian women…I would gladly say that they are too pretty. They have clearly just walked out of the beauty parlor, and the satin quality of their skin could only have been obtained by a long series of baths in almond milk."