Offered for sale by direct descendants of the artist, La Jeunesse de Bacchus will carry an estimate of $25-35m.
Impressive in both scale and technical artistry, the monumental canvas with 11 life-sized female and male figures is 20ft long and 11ft high (6.10m x 3.35m).
The work has hung in Bouguereau's studio in Paris since it was completed in 1884. It has previously left the building only three times in its 135-year history: when presented at the Salon in 1884, followed by exhibitions in London and Antwerp in 1885, for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889, and as part of a Bouguereau retrospective that toured the Musée du Petit-Palais in Paris, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford in 1984-85.
Its appearance in an Impressionist & Modern sale marks the first time that a work by Bouguereau will be offered in Sotheby's marquee evening auctions (more typically French Academic painting would be included in sales of 19th century European pictures).
Sotheby’s took a similar approach in November 2017 when it decided to offer an interior scene by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) in an Imps & Mods sale.
The auctioneers have released the promotional video below.
The Bouguereau painting work will be on be view alongside Sotheby’s Asia Week exhibitions opening on March 14, and again for the sale when the expansion work at the New York galleries will be complete.
La Jeunesse de Bacchus (Youth of Bacchus), with its influences taken from the Greco-Roman period, classical 17th century French painting and sculpture, as well as the work of contemporaries, was painted by Bouguereau over the course of three years during a period of intense artistic activity.
Between 1878 and 1884, Bouguereau produced approximately 50 paintings, including 14 works over 3m (9ft 10in) high, which were exhibited at the Salon.
When La Jeunesse de Bacchus was first presented in 1884 at the Paris Salon, it was deemed the most important and masterly example of French Academic painting anywhere in the world.
A successful sale would make it the most expensive French Salon painting ever sold.