Artist specialized in properly cheeky cherubs
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In William Bouguereau's 1886 painting "Springtime," it's not so much the fetching nude woman who attracts attention as the eight winged cherubs clustered around her.
Cherubs became popular in the paintings of the Renaissance. The two chubby-cheeked examples peeking up from the bottom of Raphael's "Sistine Madonna" are particularly popular examples.
But there's not much demand for cherubs in today's art, so Bouguereau may have been the last famous painter to capitalize on their appeal.
Purists will tell you the winged babies should be called "putti," an Italian term for little angels. Cherubs are technically the cherubim of Scripture, holding up God's heavenly throne.
But cherubs is the term that has come down to us in English, and no matter what you call them, Bouguereau was a master at depicting them, and at painting children in general.
Part of the reason, according to visitors to his studio in Paris during his lifetime, was that he had a great fondness for children, and when he hired Italian women to pose as models for his peasant scenes, he often asked them to bring along their children, who had free run of the studio.
Juan Martinez, a realist painter and art historian based in Toronto, said one reason Bouguereau's cherubs were so impressive "was his ability to depict figures that seemed to be flying without gravity. He was somehow able to give you a sense that the center of gravity was up near the shoulders" of the hovering infants.
That can be seen in one of Bouguereau's paintings on display at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze -- "Young Love," in which a cupid whispers in the ear of a pensive young woman.
Bouguereau also was an acknowledged master of painting skin tones, especially important in portraying children. "It's almost like you could reach into the paintings and squeeze the cheeks of these children," Martinez said.
The French master's genius at depicting children must still hold some appeal.
In 2000, his painting "Charity," in which a beautiful woman cradles three babies while two others nestle at her feet, fetched
First Published August 20, 2007 4:04 pm