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William-Adolphe Bouguereau concluded the oil portrait entitled Petite fille au bol bleu, translated as Little Girl with Blue Bowl, in 1879 during one of his many trips to La Rochelle in Western France. On many occasions, the artist would begin his works during his travels and add the finishing touches in his Paris studio. The model of this painting appears in many other works of this period, including La Frileuse (Chilly Girl), although her identity remains a mystery.
Women were the leading figures of the French artist’s work – whether it was the nude nymphs and Goddesses of his fantasy paintings, or the sacred madonnas and Virgin Mary of the Bible, Bouguereau’s portrayal of women was praised by the public as well as the critics. Along with these Classic themes, the painter also had a great passion for portraying idyllic scenes, meaning he painted people of the rural environment. These artworks were Bouguereau’s tribute to this forgotten part of society. The artist focused on the simple peasant lifestyle, choosing to depict beggars, fishers, bohemians, and shepherdesses – mostly women.
In Petite fille au bol bleu, the model sits on a simple wooden chair with its backrest facing the front of the canvas and creating an angle. A dark blue fabric lays over it, painted in exquisite detail, where the little girl supports her elbow. Her tiny, chubby hands are soft and feature dimples indicating she is very young. Her hands are as precious as the floral patterned blue china that lays on her lap. Bouguereau’s technical precision gives the painting an almost hyperrealistic sense, as the artist beautifully depicts the textures of the soft skin, the folding fabric, her shiny hair, as well as the glossy ceramic bowl.
Bouguereau depicts the model wearing her normal clothing instead of the fashion trends of the time, making this artwork relatable throughout many decades. With an ochre-colored skirt and a dark vest over a white mid-sleeve shirt, the girl wears a typical attire for a peasant girl. Her dark blond hair is combed back wearing a simple thin black lace with a bow on her hair, and featuring a simple slim earing. Although just a child, the model’s serious expression and deep stare give the sense of an old and wise soul, captivating the viewer.
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