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“The Shepherd David” is based on the biblical story (I Samuel 17:34) in which David proves his worthiness to fight Goliath by recounting that he fought wild beasts threatening his flock. Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau depicts a young David kneeling victoriously on a dead lion while clutching a lamb in the crook of his right arm. As he gazes to the heavens, he gesticulates upward with his left hand toward the source of his strength.

The monumental composition and David’s pose reflect Bouguereau’s familiarity with old-master paintings and classical sculpture. David’s marble-like skin stands out against a background of muted blues and earth tones, further contributing to the otherworldliness of this representation. The polished surface of the work, which Bouguereau achieved with smooth, unbroken brush strokes, conveys the idea that this is a historic moment frozen in time.

Writing to her sister Maria in 1895 about this work, Bouguereau boasted that the painting would soon grace a full page in the art dealer Albert Goupil’s publication listing the best pictures of the year. Gardner recognized that this work was not a “good paying investment,” as it might be too “serious for ordinary tastes,” perhaps better suited for a museum.

Details

  • Title: The Shepherd David
  • Creator: Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau
  • Date: ca. 1895
  • artist profile: Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau was among the first wave of Americans who sought art training in Paris after the Civil War. Bouguereau arrived in Paris in 1864 and began studying contemporary and old-master paintings. While Paris beckoned all artists, women were still barred from studying at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. Undaunted by these discriminatory practices, Bouguereau enrolled in private classes. In 1868, she was one of the first American women to exhibit at the Paris Salon, along with Mary Cassatt. Bouguereau’s paintings were accepted into 25 Paris Salons; she also won a bronze medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. By the late 1870s, she was studying with William-Adolphe Bouguereau, whose use of rich color and portrayals of children and domestic scenes were widely acclaimed. Religious, historical, and mythological subject matter dominated Bouguereau’s early art production. She acknowledged that her work was strongly influenced by William-Adolphe (to whom she became engaged in 1879 but did not marry until 1896). She made her own way by producing works in a monumental style most often associated with male artists.
  • Training: Académie Julian, Paris, 1873–ca.1877; Gobelins Tapestry School, Paris, 1872; Private lessons, Paris, 1864–ca.1866; Women’s cooperative studio, Paris, 1865
  • Physical Dimensions: w41.375 x h60.5 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibitions: “Four Centuries of Women’s Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts,” 1990–91; “American Women Artists: 1830-1930,” 1987

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