Elizabeth Jane Gardner
Figure painter and wife of William-Adolphe Bouguereau



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Elizabeth Jane Gardner
Figure painter and wife of William-Adolphe Bouguereau
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Birth Date

October 04, 1837

Death Date

January 28, 1922

Works by Elizabeth Jane Gardner

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Gardner is often known for her marriage to fan-favorite William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but this business-savvy artist’s creativity and ambition often outpaced that of her famous husband.

Gardner, an American artist working in Paris, fought for the creative freedom she would eventually exhibit in works like The Shepherd David. She started out as a copy artist, making ends meet by producing duplicates of the works of her more celebrated peers. Lacking the financial means of contemporaries like Cassatt, Gardner had to plan her artistic endeavors with the discerning eye of a merchant.

Despite limited funds, Gardner had lofty dreams. She applied to the École des Beaux-Arts decades before it opened its doors to women. In 1868 she became one of the first American women to have work displayed in the Paris Salon, and in 1872 she became the first woman to receive its gold medal.  When her critics grumbled that her idealized portraiture bore too strong a likeness to Bouguereau’s, she simply countered that she “would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody.”

Gardner went the extra mile to make her living as an artist, a trade that tended to exclude women. Inspired by her friend Rosa Bonheur, Gardner applied for a permit that gave her the right to cross-dress. She only sought this legal route, however, after spending over two months studying at the all-male Gobelins Tapestry Manufacture. Gardner had passed her entrance exam by masquerading as a male, only later securing a permit when she discovered that the law prohibited her from wearing male clothing while out and about. A masculine get-up gained Gardner entry in life drawing classes, allowing her the freedom to expand her anatomical knowledge. With or without her disguise, Gardner let no societal boundary keep her from exploration: she often wandered the city in her men’s clothing and traveled solo in transatlantic steamships.



  1. “Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau.” National Museum of Women in the Arts. 2018. Accessed December 30, 2018.
  2. Pearo, Charles. "Elizabeth Jane Gardner and the American Colony in Paris: “Making Hay While the Sun Shines” in the Business of Art." Winterthur Portfolio 43, no. 4 (2009): 275-312.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Elizabeth Jane Gardner

Elizabeth Jane Gardner (October 4, 1837 – January 28, 1922) was an American academic and salon painter, who was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. She was an American expatriate who died in Paris where she had lived most of her life. She studied in Paris under the figurative painter Hugues Merle (1823–1881), the well-known salon painter Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836–1911), and finally under William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). After Bouguereau's wife died, Gardner became his paramour and after the death of his mother, who bitterly opposed the union, she married him in 1896. She adopted his subjects, compositions, and even his smooth facture, channeling his style so successfully that some of her work might be mistaken for his. In fact, she was quoted as saying, "I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!"

Gardner's best known work may be The Shepherd David Triumphant (1895), which shows the young shepherd with the lamb he has rescued. Among her other works were Cinderella, Cornelia and Her Jewels, Corinne, Fortune Teller, Maud Muller, Daphne and Chloe, Ruth and Naomi, The Farmer's Daughter, The Breton Wedding, and some portraits.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Elizabeth Jane Gardner.