Reproduction of original frame by Diego Salazar Antique Frames, New York, given in honor of Jack Lee Scott by Jane McRae Scott, 2003.
After a strict academic training as a painter at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Bouguereau was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1850. This prize enabled him to move to Rome, where he industriously studied and copied the Italian masters. Four years later, Bouguereau returned to Paris. His extraordinary success as a painter, combined with his influence as a teacher, make him one of the masters of nineteenth-century academic painting. As a prominent juror, Bouguereau also exerted decisive influence over the annual Paris Salon, keeping it within the bounds of official academicism and systematically rejecting the experimental painting of Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and the Impressionists.
The donkey ride, featured prominently in this painting, offers Bouguereau the opportunity to show his astounding technical skills and classical learning in the representation of an age-old harvest festival. The child riding the donkey is playing the role of the Roman god Bacchus, accompanied by joyful peasants. Additionally, the theme of this painting carries Biblical allusions whereby the child is identified as the young Christ. This painting was commissioned by Alexander T. Stewart, a wealthy American department store owner of Irish descent, who stipulated that “the painting was to be the artist’s greatest work and not a nude subject.” Unfortunately, Stewart died before Bouguereau could finish this much admired painting.
“I love the beauty of each face – how amazingly soft and real the skin looks; the tenderness of the mother and joy in the faces of all those dancing around…a celebration at the deepest level I think…I always see it as an adoration of the Christ child.” – Janet Kennedy, Germany