William Bouguereau: Biblis
Classical subjects and Greek myths provided Bouguereau with inspiration throughout his career. The resulting narrative paintings were accessible to contemporary audiences and earned him great acclaim as his submissions to the Paris Salon, including compositions such as Nymphs et Satyr (1873), Flore et Zéphyre (1874), and La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), painted the same year as the present work, which is the réduction of his Salon submission of 1885, Biblis (1884). The classical subject also provided a veil under which Bouguereau could present the nude, a strategy that many Academic artists employed as well.
In Greek mythology, Biblis, daughter of Miletus, fell in love with her twin brother, Caunus. Though she realized that her feelings were taboo, she could not help but try to woo him and sent him a letter citing examples of incest among the Gods. Repelled and afraid, Caunus fled, driving Biblis mad and prompting her to shed her clothes and chase him through Greece and Anatolia, crying incessantly. Exhausted by grief and sorrow, she collapses, perishes and is transformed by nymphs into a spring, or according to other acccounts, is simply consumed by her tears and becomes a fountain. In either outcome, Bouguereau represents Biblis in her penultimate moment.
Bouguereau writes: “Among my paintings, Biblis is one that I love the most, one that I most enjoyed painting; this even though it was inspired by an incident in the atelier. One of my female models had just asked to rest from a tiring pose; when the young woman was in the process of standing up, she instinctively found herself in a pose so beautiful that I stopped her with a gesture and a shout, begging her to hold the pose for just an instant longer. I sketched her immediately, very quickly… I had seen my Biblis. It is one of my best paintings” (as translated from the French, Vachon, p. 115). [Sotheby’s]