William Bouguereau: L'aurore [Dawn]
Dawn – early morning represented by a female figure reaching back to smell a blooming calla lily – exemplifies William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s standards of beauty and technical skill. His attention to detail and smooth finished surfaces produced human figures that are both lyrical and ideal.
Greco-Roman antiquities and Italian Renaissance sculpture often influenced Bouguereau’s later work. Frequently, he portrayed biblical, mythological, and allegorical figures like Dawn. A passage in Homer’s Odyssey that describes the breaking of day as a “rosy-fingered dawn, the child of the morning” inspired him to paint the figure’s fingers and toes with a pinker hue than the rest of her flesh.
Dawn is Bouguereau’s first artwork in a series of the times of day. Others include Dusk (1882); Night (1883); and Day (1884). Though each allegorical figure’s personality is as different from the others as night is to day, a continuity exists among them – in their poses, loosely draped garments, and the landscapes they occupy. The paintings, a study in complements and contrasts, share a harmony of line, form, and color. Although the artist exhibited each work at the Paris Salon, they never hung together; he sold them to his dealer Adolphe Goupil, who in turn placed them with American collectors. [Birmingham Museum of Art]