While William-Adolphe Bouguereau (BOO-geh-roh) was renowned in the earlier years of his career for his portraits and depictions of classical antiquity, he later turned to sentimental scenes of children and peasants. Young Priestess offers a return to the themes that made him famous, although with a new focus: a model plays the role of a priestess, but her religion or cult is not identifiable. The space she inhabits is nondescript: a shimmering pale-pink drapery hangs behind her, a tiled floor with a Greek key design beneath her feet. She holds a simple staff. Her hairband and earrings are metal, not jeweled. Rather than creating a crowded scene, with furniture and appropriate props, the artist is interested in an almost photo-realistic rendering of what stands before him, each fold of drapery and strand of hair painstakingly reproduced.
Bouguereau’s training in France’s Academic system would have prepared him well for this kind of painting, as he would have studied figure drawing and anatomy as well as Greek and Roman history. Young Priestess was completed and exhibited in 1902 when the artist was almost 80. It was so popular that a publishing company sold printed reproductions of the painting in several sizes.