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William-Adolphe Bouguereau's "Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros" ("Jeûne Fille Se Défendant Contre L'Amour") is considered to be his finest piece, a glowing example of the "Academics" approved style of painting by the Academie des Beaux-Artes. This work, which Bouguereau painted for the Paris Salon in 1880, made its way to New York, where it was purchased by Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller, and prominent developer of coastal Florida resort towns such as Palm Beach. Flagler kept the painting in his Palm Beach mansion and eventually gave it to his sister-in-law Sarah Graham Kenan in Wilmington.

Mrs. Kenan's house "Sunnyside" was eventually donated, along with its contents, to Wilmington College (UNCW) and is now the Chancellor's home (Kenan House). The painting, a 61x43 inch oil-on-canvas, has taken part in many art exhibits since its "rediscovery" by the art world in 1983, when it was featured as "the lost Bouguereau." It can even be seen in the movie The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was filmed in the Kenan House.

On February 12, 2001, after many years on the road in art exhibitions, Bouguereau's "Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros" returned to the Kenan House, and has remained in North Carolina ever since.

Timeline for “Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros”

♦ 1901/2: Henry Flagler and his wife Mary Lily Kenan Flagler purchased the piece in New York and moved it to their Palm Beach, FL, home “Whitehall.”

♦ Unknown date: Henry Flagler gave the painting to Sarah Graham Kenan.

♦ 1968: James Graham Kenan donated Sarah Graham Kenan's home, located at 17th and Market Streets, and its contents to Wilmington College (UNCW).

♦ Early 1980s: While planning an exhibition featuring Bouguereau, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta searched for a masterpiece that had been missing from the art world for generations, Bouguereau's “Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros." Museum board member James Kenan told the museum director, Gudmund Vigrel, that this work had always been in his Aunt Sarah's house. Vigrel visited the Kenan House to view the painting and confirmed that it was the long-lost treasure.Campus Communique newsletter 02/22/2001. Reception at Kenan House. Janice and William Kingoff were among guests.

♦ January-October 1983: The High Museum exhibited the painting and included it in a touring exhibit. The Kenan House received “Gaston, Duke of Orleans” by Anthony van Dyck on loan. The Bouguereau painting was insured for $100,000.

♦ November 1983: The Bouguereau painting returned to Kenan House.

♦ 1984-85: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts included the work in a major international Bouguereau exhibition.

♦ 1990: The painting was exhibited at St. John’s Museum of Art.

♦ July 1992: The painting was loaned to the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh. It was insured for $2,000,000. Kenan House received “The Countess of Cassel and her son as Venus and Cupid” by François de Troy loaned in return.

♦ 1995: “Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros” returned to the Kenan House briefly for an art history lecture by Anthony F. Janson.

♦ February 12, 2001: Conservators from NCMA re-installed the painting in the Kenan House with museum-quality lighting. Two Kenan House receptions occurred that month to celebrate the painting’s homecoming.

♦ February 6, 2003: UNCW loaned the piece to the Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington for the museum's grand opening.

♦ 2003-2005: The painting was loaned to NCMA while the Kenan House underwent renovations.

♦ 2009-2011: The painting was returned to NCMA for a grand opening celebration of a renovated wing.

♦ 2011-Present: The painting is displayed in the lobby of the Kenan House.


By Elán M. Ward