Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths (Translation)
Bataille des Centaures contre les Lapithes (Primary Title)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, French, 1825 - 1905 (Artist)

1852
French
oil on canvas
Unframed: 49 × 68 5/8 in. (124.46 × 174.31 cm)
Framed: 59 1/8 × 81 × 3 1/2 in. (150.18 × 205.74 × 8.89 cm)
2008.100
Not on view
In the 19th century, the French academic system privileged “history painting,” which was considered to be the highest and most important category of painting, and therefore the ultimate expression of artistic talent. History paintings by definition are multi-figure scenes with narratives taken from literature, history, mythology, or the Bible. Adolphe Bouguereau painted Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths while he was a student at the French Academy in Rome, which was a highly desirable situation for a young French artist. While living in Rome, Bouguereau was surrounded by the city’s ancient art and architecture, and this immersion in the past was itself considered crucial to the artist’s development. The painting depicts a highly dramatic moment taken from Greek mythology, the Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs. The two groups had been long-standing enemies, but the Lapiths attempt to reconcile with the Centaurs and invite them to a wedding banquet and celebration. The Centaurs, mythological creatures who were half-man and half-horse, got drunk and caused mayhem when they tried to abduct the bride. In Bouguereau’s image, the viewer sees the most violent chapter of the story. This is a clash of civilizations, and the dead and wounded from both sides litter the ground. As the two central male figures fight over the woman, their bodies create a dramatic pyramid-shaped composition, which allows the eye to be drawn toward the terrified bride, partially draped in a violently red cloak. Bouguereau relied on poses derived from ancient sculpture throughout the work.
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
2019 "Bouguereau & America", Milwaukee Art Museum, February 14 - May 12, 2019; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, June 22 - September 22, 2019
Paul, Tanya, and Stanton Thomas. Bouguereau & America. Milwaukee Art Museum, 2019. cat no 4, pp 78-79

Trippi, Peter. "The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Takes a Fresh Look at 19th-Century Europe." Fine Art Connoisseur, vol. 8 issue 5 (October, 2011): pp. 33-37. Color ill. pp. 35.
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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