The second half of the 19th century witnessed earthshaking changes in France, where even the art world also experienced a major shift toward a new era, including the first Impressionist exhibition (1874) that was held to compete against the Salon. Nonetheless, the Academy that called itself an orthodox school still remained to be influential.
William Adolphe Bouguereau, a painter who represents the Academic Art of the time along with Alexandre Cabanel, is known as a conservative painter who denied the paintings by Manet and other Impressionists. The term “Bouguereauesque” was even used as an antonym of Impressionism. Bouguereau, who was a pupil of the neoclassical painter François-Édouard Pico, won the Prix de Rome in 1850, and exhibited outstanding masterpieces of historical and mythological paintings at the Salon. His style in which exquisite detailed depictions reproducing even a subtle light and shade and a refined matière stand out can be considered the ultimate in the academic techniques of realism.
Bouguereau also created many genre paintings. From 1870 onwards, he came to paint a number of the stylized paintings, such as of a loving mother and child and of an adorable girl in an idyllic landscape. This is one of his idyllic paintings of a girl created during this period. It depicts a girl in a fishing village who carries a net over her left shoulder and holds a basket in her right hand. The seaside setting and the girl’s clothes look conservative, while the colors and patterns of the scarf on her head are only the bright element in this painting. Therefore, the eyes of viewers are spontaneously drawn to the graphic exposed parts of the girl’s skin including her face, neck, arms and hands which look fresh and smooth like the surface of porcelain. The depiction of a human body which could in a sense be photographic is a technique unique to Bouguereau.