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William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905),
Return of Spring , 1886
oil on canvas, 84 1/2 x 50 in.
Gift of Francis T. B. Martin, 1951.889

Through exhibitions, permanent collection acquisitions, and programming, Joslyn is working to elevate and amplify perspectives that historically have been underrepresented in the galleries. The Museum recognizes the potential of interpretation to highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in works of art. With OMAHA SPEAKS, we look to broaden the conventional interpretation of objects in our permanent collection by introducing commentary from leaders in our community.

Barber, artist

Suspicious narrative aside, when standing in front of Return of Spring, it becomes clear how William-Adolphe Bouguereau makes an accomplice of us all. New and naked, the figure is gendered, learning of herself amid onlookers. The boldness of Bouguereau to center billowing peach between blues and greens is awe-inspiring. Painting representatively affords him this risk. Had Bouguereau painted instead a large, springing flower and the putti as pollen-collecting bees to signify Spring, perhaps someone would not have tried to “fix” the painting by throwing a chair at it in 1890. But then, Return of Spring would not be a masterclass for contention, an open examination of flesh. Captivated, I wanted to rescue Return of Spring from further attack and the figure within the painting from the spectacle by painting Victoria. Victoria is a large, mixed-media painting I created as an artist-in-residence at Fontenelle Forest. Composed after Return of Spring and borrowing ideas from Abstract Expressionism, I de-centered sex by towing genitalia into abstraction. The figure within Victoria is modeled after a beautiful, self-assured filmmaker in Omaha, and is the axis between representation (flesh) and the nonrepresentational (abstract).


Barber is an Omaha-based artist whose interdisciplinary practice articulates various testimonies within and surrounding Black America. Recognitions include: 2020 Biennial Artist Research Fellowship at Sam Fox Island Press, Washington University, St. Louis; selected for the publication New American Paintings; and nominated for the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Award.

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