Bouguereau & America: Myth and Allegory

Background Information: Artists from many times and places have created artwork inspired by cultural figures of mythology and history, including William Adolphe-Bouguereau. While much of his imagery is from Greek and Roman mythology, every culture has its own iconic figures that represent values, history, and mythology that inspire our own stories and imaginations.

Primary Purpose: Students will learn about the depiction of mythological characters in art to tell a story or depict heroic tales of legend. Additionally, students will make personal connections to art by reflecting on their own personality traits and creating a mythical figure as an allegory for themselves by creating writing and/or visual artwork.

Learning Objectives encourage students to:
• Recognize that artists are inspired by epic stories, ancient mythology, and heroic tales to create artwork
• Read body language and facial expressions of figures in works of art to understand its story and empathize with the characters
• Investigate a work of art to describe what is happening using appropriate vocabulary
• Find a personal connection with a work of art based on experience and interpretation
• Share ideas and opinions of artwork with peers based on visual evidence and prior knowledge of symbolism

Discussion Questions for Exploring Art:
With your students, examine the painting Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau or compare and contrast this work with other paintings of mythological tales. Read the tale of Orestes here.
• Who are the mythical characters/figures? How can you tell?
• What appears to be happening in the image? What is the story?
• When does this scene take place? (time period, time of day, season, event)
• Where is this place? How can you tell?
• Why are the figures in the painting portrayed in this way?
• How do colors and characters influence the mood of this work of art?

Student Learning Objectives: This arts integration lesson plan is designed to engage students in creative thinking and visual art making to deepen understanding of mythology and allegory inspired by the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

  • Use visual art, creative writing, and other vocabulary to understand meaning in artwork
  • Develop opinions about art and articulate ideas to others with visual evidence and recall of prior knowledge
  • Reflect on character and personality traits to represent these qualities in creative writing, visual artwork, or a combination of both
  • Practice research skills to make personal connections to history, art, and mythology
  • Enhance creative problem solving skills to produce creative writing, visual artwork, or a combination of both
  • Utilize the creative process to plan, revise, and share creative writing, visual artwork, or a combination of both


  1. Introduce students to Bouguereau’s paintings of mythology using these and other supplemental resources. Encourage students to analyze the works of art and share their ideas with the class.
  2. Help students understand the concepts of mythology, allegory, and personification as devices artists and writers use to communicate ideas and symbolism to an audience.
  3. Guide students to make personal connections to the artwork by researching about mythological characters (from any culture) and choosing which traits match their own the closest. (Optional Student Resource: My Mythology Planning Sheet)
  4. Students can then invent a new mythological character that they feel best represents their personality. This can be done with sketching, descriptive writing, or a combination of the two.
  5. Provide students with appropriate materials to create a work of art or creative writing piece to communicate a story of the mythological character they developed as a self-portrait.
  6. Encourage peer and teacher feedback as students work as well as the importance of revising their work to improve it along the way.
  7. Share and evaluate the work.

We would love to see samples of student work. Please email them to