Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau (1837 – 1922) was an American expatriate artist who lived in Paris most of her life. She studied in Paris with the artists Huges Merle and Jules Lefebvre before studying with William Bouguereau. After Bouguereau’s wife died, Gardner became his lover and after the death of his mother, who did not approve of the union, they were married in 1896. Gardner adopted Bouguereau subjects, compositions and style so successfully that most of her work might be mistaken for his. She was quoted as saying, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”
However, I find Gardner Bouguereau’s The Imprudent Girl more interesting than most of her husband’s work because of the ambiguity of the subject. Since there are two girls in the painting, one wonders which of the girls is imprudent and how she is imprudent? The younger girl lies limp on the ground, the stem of a flower lies across her hand. Is the little girl ill from eating a flower? The older girl leans over her to care for her? I’m aware that moderns would certainly make a different reading of the painting.
Gardner Bouguereau’s skill was so great that I wonder if she worked as an assistant to her husband. Many masters of the past employed assistants to paint the background details of a work, while the master would complete the main figures in the painting. Bouguereau painted so many refined works in his life (822 known) I’ve wonder how it would be humanly possible, by comparison, the great Dutch artist Vermeer only painted about 40. I found no record of it, but is a good question.