William Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, spent part of his youth in Bordeaux where his father settled as a trader. After four years of study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he won the Prix de Rome in 1850. He soon became an artist known and appreciated by the general public. As a Academic painter, he loved the subjects of Greek and Roman mythology, as here "Youth of Bacchus," which is a pretext to show beautiful naked male and female bodies in motion.
Things have not changed much. In the 21st Century, the art world still plays the same fool's game pretending there is no prurient interest in the depiction of the naked human body whenever 'Art' is concerned for if it's Art, it can't be pornographic. Few artists are challenging this conventional notion. The above collage, which uses two of my photographs of African-American model J. J., seeks to ridicule it with humor while adding some additional realism into this exageratedly romantic and campy pastoral scene. The frozen dance looks as if choreographed by Isadore Duncan but she was only 7 at the time. One can wonder if her choreography was influenced by this painting?
Bouguereau, a clever businessman, is known to have signed an exclusive contract with Adolphe Goupil who also had an art gallery. As his exclusive agent, Goupil reproduced in his workshop almost all of Bouguereau's works using the new technical processes of the time. For example,"Youth of Bacchus" was mass produced in photogravures which combined the precision of photography and the image stability of a traditional etching. Those images in full color were widely disseminated and used to decorate mid 19th century homes of the French middle class.
-Text adapted from le Musée d'Aquitaine @ http://www.musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.fr/fr/article/la-jeunesse-de-bacchus-1884