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William Bouguereau. Nymphs and Satyrs (c1873)
Nymphs et Satyrs is a 260 x 180 cm Oil on canvas and was first shown at the Paris Salon in 1873. It hung opposite the bar in the Hoffman House Hotel in New York for many years where it was admired by many and was first seen by Sterling Clark who in the 1930's discovered that it had been put into storage. It was then acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, in 1942/43 and now hangs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
In this painting Bouguereau portrays a Satyr with four nymphs playfully dancing around him and seemingly trying to coax him into the water to bathe. His body posture suggests that he is reluctant to comply. There are also three other nymphs looking on from across what appears to be a river or pond. Satyrs were deities of the woods and were the companion of Bacchus the god of wine. They were half human half beast and although having the upper body of a human they had facial characteristics of a goat and the lower limbs of a goat. They mostly passed the time away drinking, dancing, and chasing nymphs. Nymphs were also said to be sexually driven. The nymphs were also associated with Bacchus. They lived on mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and in valleys and cool grotto's and were the constant target of the satyrs who would take pleasure in their pursuit and would lie in wait for them to pass so that they could scare them.
Bouguereau's original sketch's for The Nymphs et Satyrs.
A close up of Bouguereaus original sketch's for The Nymphs et Satyrs.
In these sketches there are five Nymphs depicted to the front of the picture yet in the finished piece Bouguereau only portrays four Nymphs.
However in this sketch there are only four nymphs shown but the positioning of the nymph to the rear of the Satyr has changed. She is now shown to be trying to force the Satyr into the water. She has her head tipped up and back suggesting that she is exerting quite a bit of force, and also more noticeably her hands are positioned on the back of the Satyrs neck with her arms bent at right angles enabling her to apply more pressure to push the Satyr forward.
The above account is my interpretation of the work and should in no way be taken as fact.
Bouguereau took a great deal of time planning his works producing many line drawings and sketches of his subjects until he was happy with the overall look and feel of the piece.
Below are some examples of the sketches he produced prior to him starting the Nymphs et Satyrs.
Bouguereau's subject sketch for the Satyr.
Bouguereau's colour study for the Satyr.
If you look closely at the sketches you will notice that in his original sketch, shown to the right and the close up to the right the Satyr appears to be already in the water as the Nymph that is pushing him from behind has been sketched with the lower part of her right leg, just below the calf, and the shin and foot of her left leg missing suggesting that Bouguereau's original thoughts were for the Satyr to have already been pushed into the water and that the Nymphs were determined to drag him in further.
However in the following sketch's below them you will notice that Bouguereau appears to have had a rethink and has instead chosen to position the Satyr on a bank at the edge of the pool or river instead of being partially in as previously sketched.
You will also notice that he has also changed the positioning of the Nymphs in attendance choosing to remove the original Nymph that was trying to push the Satyr in from behind and instead replacing her first with one that is standing behind the Satyr with her hands resting or pushing forcibly on his head, on what also appears to be a fairly level bank, to one that is standing behind behind the Satyr with her right arm stretched back, that in the finished piece appears to be to steady herself by holding onto a vine with her right hand while either pushing down on the Satyrs head to ease him into the water or she is using his head to steady herself as the bank that she is standing on is now shown as being steep thus now setting the scene. He has also changed the position and poses of the Nymphs that are to the front of the Satyr repositioning the Nymph to the fore front of the picture with one that instead of what appears to be forcibly heaving him in to the pool, to one that appears to be trying to coax the Satyr in. You will notice the repositioning of her arms as well as her body position. This also applies to the Nymph to the left of the Satyr who has her left hand on the Satyrs wrist and her right hand gently placed on the back of his neck.
Possibly as a means of comfort or ready to heave him in at an opportune moment. Behind her there is now a Nymph that appears to be gaily dancing obviously enjoying the light hearted frivolity of the scene.
Bouguereau's colour study for The Nymphs et Satyrs.
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