Homer and His Guide (Homère et son guide) (1874) by William-Adolphe BouguereauMilwaukee Art Museum
The ancient Greek poet Homer, famous for writing the Iliad and the Odyssey, stands at the center of this historical painting. The artist, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, began his career painting works such as this, of classical subject matter.
He later became well known for his sentimental paintings of women and children and was the most famous French academic painter of the later nineteenth century.
Here, a young shepherd helps the blind Homer navigate the terrain.
Research suggests a poem called “L’Aveugle” (or “The Blind Man”) by André Chénier was Bouguereau’s inspiration for this painting. Chénier was a French poet who worked about a hundred years before Bouguereau, in the late 1700s.
Bouguereau based Homer’s head on a bust of the poet in an archaeological museum in Naples, Italy.
Strapped to Homer’s back is a lyre, a harp-like string instrument popular in ancient Greece. As an epic poet, Homer would have sung his stories for an audience.
Though dogs are barking around him, Homer walks calmly, his dignified demeanor unruffled.
Stones in the shepherd’s hand are readily accessible to throw at the dog, were it to become a threat.
High technical finish
The individual brushstrokes Bouguereau used to make this foot, and the rest of the painting, are indistinguishable.
In fact, all the artist’s paintings reflect this high technical finish. Bouguereau actually applied multiple thin layers of paint to make the image appear almost lifelike, with depth and detail.
The traditional, classical subject matter of this painting—down to the clothing—was the leading style in 1874, when Bouguereau painted it.
Around this time, artists such as Monet were creating a new kind of art that depicted the world as they saw it around them. It became known as Impressionism.
The style was radically different from Bouguereau's classicism.
Some historians believe that Bouguereau may have intended the painting as a rebuttal to these artists’ refusal to follow tradition, reasserting his position as a classical painter.
Homer and His Guide (Homère et son guide), 1874
Oil on canvas
82 1/4 x 56 1/4 in. (208.92 x 142.88 cm)
framed: 99 1/2 × 73 3/4 × 5 1/2 in. (252.73 × 187.33 × 13.97 cm)
Layton Art Collection Inc., Gift of Frederick Layton
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin