I first encountered the beautiful painting The Elder Sister years ago on a members-appreciation evening visit to an exhibit of artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. The  photo-realist style of the artist, William Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) involved realistic style coupled with mythological themes, creating a modern interpretation of classical subjects. Most notable were his depictions of the feminine body in his paintings.

The Elder Sister (French: La soeur aînée) is a painting by nineteenth century French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau which he painted in 1869. The painting was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas in 1992 as an anonymous gift. According to the museum web site, it was a gift of an anonymous patron in memory of her father. Ever since then, The Elder Sister has been a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she can be found in the “Arts of Europe” section. She became the most enduring and visited artwork in the museum’s collection of paintings.

In the foreground of the painting, a girl (“the elder sister”) is sitting on a rock and holding a sleeping baby (“the younger brother”) on her lap, with a peaceful rural landscape in the background. For this scene, Bouguereau’s daughter Henriette and son Paul posed as models. The beauty of the girl and her eyes, which are looking directly at the viewer, her composure in caring so lovingly for her little brother, as well the balance of the composition, including positioning of the legs and arms of the children, demonstrate Bouguereau’s academic painting style. The style of academic painting encompasses a scientific approach to the artwork with a blending of chrominance, luminance and realism.

Bouguereau also created another painting called The Elder Sister La Soeur Aînée, Réduction (completed in 1864). It currently is part of the permanent collection in the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

The Elder Sister.

This painting spoke words of tranquility, serenity, composure and elegance.

I saw many depictions of artwork that evening, but, The Elder Sister stayed with me.

The Elder Sister, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1869, 38.27″ x 51.18″, oil on canvas.


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