The Bouguereaus: Puritan Artist Cohabits with her French Art Instructor

by | Jun 13, 2022

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In 1864, Exeter, New Hampshire native Elizabeth Jane Gardner (1837-1922) arrived in France in search of art training and found “not a studio nor a master who would receive me.”  So, like artist Rosa Bonheur, she donned boys clothing which “enabled me to study after the nude at the all-male drawing school, Manufacture Nationale de Tapisserie des Gobelins.

When the previously male-only Académie Julian finally opened classes for women (who were required to pay a higher fee than the male students) she studied with Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

After Bouguereau’s wife died, he and the Puritan girl from New England began a relationship. However, because Bouguereau’s mother disapproved, they waited until after her death 17 years later before making their relationship legal – meanwhile Elizabeth ran the household, raised Bouguereau’s motherless children, and still found time to paint spectacularly.

She had more paintings accepted into the Paris Salon than any other American female painter, her first was accepted in 1868, along with Mary Cassatt’s first acceptance.

David the Shepherd, 1895, by Elizabeth Jane Gardner

Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau’s painting David the Shepherd is in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC. Writing to her sister Maria in 1895 about this work, Bouguereau boasted that the painting would soon grace a full page in the art dealer Albert Goupil’s publication listing the best pictures of the year. Gardner recognized that this work was not a “good paying investment,” as it might be too “serious for ordinary tastes,” perhaps better suited for a museum.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner’s teacher and later husband, William-Adolphe Bouguereau is in the direct Ocean View Arts Artistic Lineage, more info is here.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner’s teacher, Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, is also in the direct Ocean View Arts Artistic Lineage, more info is here.


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