A museum patron views William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1852 “Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths.” Photo by Chris Jennewein

A sophisticated French artist who captivated America during the Gilded Age, only to be ostracized by the arrival of Modernism, is the subject of a major exhibition opening Saturday at the San Diego Museum of Art.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau painted idealized, polished images of classical events, sensual maidens, and pristine peasant children. His paintings were de rigueur for American collectors and institutions from the late 1860s to the early 1900s.

Bouguereau was “a star during his lifetime” whose work extolled feminine beauty, noted Roxana Velásquez, the museum’s executive director, at a preview on Thursday night.

But the artist, who died in 1905, quickly fell out of favor as Impressionism and Modernism changed the art world.

“When the 20th century arrived, he was rejected,” Velásquez said. “He was considered — of all things — too perfect,”

Ostracized for nearly a century, Bouguereau’s work is re-examined in “Bouguereau & America.” The exhibition encompasses 40 paintings, which include many of the artist’s most important works. Among them is “The Young Shepherdess,” long-time favorite by Bouguereau that is in the museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibition runs through March 15. The museum in Balboa Park is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It’s closed on Wednesdays.

A patron looks at two of the sensual paintings by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s in the San Diego exhibition.
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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.