Breton Brother and Sister, 1871
William Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905)
Oil on canvas; 50 7/8 x 35 1/8 in. (129.2 x 89.2 cm)
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887 (87.15.32)
Bouguereau championed academic training throughout his successful artistic career, even as it fell out of favor during the last decades of the century. Beginning in the 1850s and 1860s, young artists working in France showed an increased awareness of the social and economic changes taking place as regions of Europe moved toward industrialization and peasants abandoned the countryside in search of urban jobs. The Impressionists, who first exhibited together three years after this painting was finished, prided themselves on depicting modern life: their landscapes often include smokestacks, and their views of city life feature laundresses and prostitutes. But academic artists such as Bouguereau had no desire to "debase" their art in this way. Bouguereau's peasants are invariably idealized: they are presented as glorified, clean, and noble, and they are often arranged in poses that recall ancient Greek sculpture. This particular painting is based partly on sketches Bouguereau made in Brittany, but it was finished in his studio. And like many of his works, it was purchased by an American collector as soon as it was completed.