William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1880 canvas Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros is an almost experiential reproduction of a playful scene between a mythological being and a nude woman at the height of her youth. The girl pushes Cupid, the cherubic God of love as he daintily holds up an arrow to pierce her. It is a gentle, almost humorous, struggle filled with mischief and the tender and subtle idiosyncrasies of personality that characterised the artist's work. One of the most immediate and noticeable aspects of Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros is the anatomical precision with which Bouguereau has captured the scene, with the young girl's arm muscles perfectly indicating the gentleness of her push.
Not receiving even a hint of the controversy of his contemporaries the Impressionists, Bouguereau was held in extremely high esteem by the French Academy yet simultaneously reviled by the more reactionary elements in artistic salons. His fame spread across Europe and, rather than merely achieving post-humous sales like many of his contemporaries, the artist's work commanded high prices and regularly received commissions during this lifetime. Visitors to the Paris exhibitions of his paintings were thrilled with his reproduction of a mythological fantasy world, tinged with the idiosyncrasies of the French countryside.
Bouguereau, like many of his contemporaries, favoured depicting women or young girls as allegorical vehicles for discussion and contemplation. Unlike many of his fellow artists, Bouguereau used his standing in the art world at the time to allow women to study at many leading French art institutions including the Academie Francaise. Like so much of his work, Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros is full of playful joy, compositional excellence, respect and a unique balance between classicalism and contemporary humour.
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