This May at Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale in New York, a large-scale painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau will hit the block with an estimate of $25 million to $35 million. If it sells for anything remotely near that range, the result will shatter the French academic artist’s previous auction record of $3.53 million, which was set for his painting La Charité (1878) way back in 2000 at Christie’s New York.
This upcoming piece, titled La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), stands 11 feet tall and stretches 20 feet across, and was completed over a two-year period by Bougeureau in his Paris studio. Its appearance at the auction house will be a rare sighting for the work, which has been displayed publicly only a handful of times, most recently at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1984 to 1985.
Benjamin Doller, the chairman of Sotheby’s Americas, said in a release, “I remember so clearly when I first saw La Jeunesse de Bacchus, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1985 that I was struck by the monumentality of the work and the life-size scale of the figures. Not only was I impressed by the size of this great painting, but I was so enamored with the life-like quality of the figures.”
The mythical, jovial painting, which was heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman period, depicts a group of human figures dancing alongside centaurs and cherub-like children. Pascale Pavageau, the head of Sotheby’s 19th-century paintings and drawings department said in the same release, “Encapsulating all the brilliant painterly defiance that characterizes Bouguereau’s work, La Jeunesse de Bacchus is the most important painting by the artist ever to come to auction.”
Sotheby’s said that this will be the first time a piece by Bouguereau has been offered at one of its “marquee evening auctions.” (The artist’s work has typically appeared in 19th-century European sales.)
“When you see the true majestic scale and technical brilliance of this masterpiece, you realize this is one of the greatest pictures painted in the 19th century,” Doller added. “Its appearance on the market, something I would have only dreamed of back in 1985, will present a truly singular opportunity to acquire a work that is the last and greatest of its kind.”