Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)
Jean Leon Gerome was a painter and a sculptor. He went to Paris in 1841, and was a student of Paul Delaroche and Charles Gleyre. He inherited the highly finished academic style of Paul Delaroche and at first established himself as a Neo Classical painter.
He traveled to Italy with Paul Delaroche in 1844, and 1845, and on his return he exhibited the painting, ‘The Cock Fight’ at the salon for which he was awarded a Third Class medal. In 1848, he won Second Class medals with paintings such as, ‘Bacchus and Cupid’ and, ‘The Virgin with Christ’. In 1855, he traveled to Turkey to make some studies for a commission and became both enthralled and entranced by the region. He was to return there again and also traveled to Egypt and Algeria. He was to become a leading exponent of the Orientalist art movement in France.
A number of his Orientalist paintings such as, ‘The Guard of Harem,’ which was produced in 1859, and ‘The Draught Players’ can be seen at the Wallace collection in London which has one of the most extensive collection of Orientalist art in Europe. One particularly magnificent painting of his, in the Orientalist style is ‘Complicity.’ This painting shows a man dressed in a vivid orange robe and turban, with his dogs, and pistols in a holster hanging around his waste. There is no doubt that in his paintings, Gerome managed successfully to portray the vibrancy and exoticicsm of the Orient.
Gerome is also particularly well known for the painting he created recounting the Greek Myth of ‘Pygmalion and Galeta’. There are two versions of this myth but the most commonly told is the following, which helps with the understanding of this painting. Pygmalion was the King of Cyprus. He created a life like statue of his ideal woman. He called the statue ‘Galeta’, however, what he created in statue for was so beautiful, he fell in love with it! Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and beauty took pity on the lovesick Pygmalion and transformed Galeta into a living woman and presided over the marriage of the two. The painting can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which also has other paintings by Jean Leon Gerome.
As well as a painter, Gerome was also a gifted Sculptor and some of his creations include ‘Omphale’ and ‘Bellona’. Bellona was a particularly beautiful work made of ivory, metal and precious stones which was also exhibited at the Royal Academy in London where it caused something of a sensation. He also produced a statue of the Duc d’Aumale which stands in front of the Chateau of Chantilly in France. In later life he produced a series of conquerors wrought in gold silver and gems, such as, ‘Bonaparte entering Cairo’ and ‘Frederick the Great’.
Students who studied under him include, Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte de Nouy. Other painters of the time who specialised in Orientalism, include, Emile Jean Horace Vernet, Alexandre Gabriel Decamps, Prosper Marilhat, Charles Theodore Frere and Alexandre Bida.