At the Edge of the Brook by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
oil on canvas, 1875
This painting is one of the most sensitive single figures ever painted. Hauntingly enigmatic, but kind and beautiful, this young peasant girl’s childhood innocence blends seamlessly with the emerging woman who rivets your eyes to hers. She stares directly at you with a serene kindness imbued with goodness and trust. Inherent is the moral imperative not to betray that trust. This is a prime example of Bouguereau’s unique ability to capture ever subtle nuances of personality and mood.
Symbolically she sits by “The Edge of the River”. She sits at perhaps the greatest crossroads in life. Her hands and legs are crossed to accentuate that symbolism as are the trunks of the trees behind and to the viewer’s right. She wears a humanistic halo of vibrant red flowers alluding to the spirituality inherent in youth.