Orestes Pursued by the Furies

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Adolphe William Bouguereau
French (1825–1905)
Orestes Pursued by the Furies, 1862
Oil on canvas

In this dramatic scene from an ancient Greek tragedy, Orestes is swarmed by mythological spirits of vengeance, the three Furies. The impressive scale of the canvas, the careful balance of compositional elements, the intense realism of the scene, and the flawlessly rendered surfaces within it are trademarks of Bouguereau’s conservative, academic style.

Bouguereau was the grand master of the French art establishment and set the bar for those painters who aspired to commercial success in the second half of the 19th century. Critics, however, dismissed this painting for its heavy, melodramatic tone. “I soon found that the horrible, the frenzied, the heroic does not pay,” Bouguereau lamented after showing the work at the 1863 Paris Salon.