William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1881 canvas Song of the Angels is a painting with immense presence, combining Neoclassical elements with an elegant figurative photo-realism.
This imaginative reproduction of the angels serenading the Virgin and child to sleep situates the visitation firmly in the late-nineteenth century, as the winged beings play the Violin and Lute before the sleeping Christ. The painting is characteristic of Bouguereau's ability to play with Biblical and mythological themes whilst maintaining his respectability in the illustrious circle of the French Academy. A truly self-made man, Bouguereau paid his way through the Ecole des Beaux-Arts by painting designs for jam jars and coloring labels for a local grocer. Traversing the museums that housed the great masters of Renaissance classicalism, the artist would create reproductions of the paintings from memory in his evenings. Despite being reviled by the avant-garde of his day, Bouguereau's work was accepted with utter praise and admiration, particularly in light of his ability to integrate contemporary themes alongside mythological tales.
The careful study of form in Song of the Angels is testament to the artist's remarkable discipline through his creative life – a career that produced over seven hundred and fifty finished pieces. After spending his youth studying the frescoes of the Villa di Medici in Rome, Bouguereau continued to steep himself in the structures, elements, and compositional techniques of the great masters. A firmly populist painter, the artist created works for an audience and his paintings were warmly received by both rich art patrons and casual gallery-goers. The skill, passion, tenderness and intimacy with which Bourguereau handled these populist classical themes has scarcely been bettered.
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