I first came into contact with Jean Leon Gerome whilst on a motorcycle tour of British Art Galleries, back in the 60s. My uncle Alexei, already a well known restoration artist and specialist in Pre-Raphaelite artwork took me to Manchester Art Gallery to view a painting he had been extolling the virtues of for many years, John Waterhouse’s “Hylas and the Nymphs” This I discovered through my uncles tutorship was,is a wonderful magnificent and beautiful painting. If you get to Liverpool one day there are some superb Museums and galleries there, well worth a detour from the usual “London Tour”. However on our return Alexei decided that he must pay a visit to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London to discuss some conservation work they had for him. We sped past Birmingham, our home town and header further South. When we reached the Courtauld I was left to my own devices whilst he went off into the offices there and talked business, that’s when I came into contact with Mr Gerome, not in painting, not in a sculpture ,but in a Photograph. I was browsing the photographic collection when my eye was captured by a startling and fascinating image, a diminutive and exhausted sculptor sitting by the side of two huge figures of gladiators in battle. That’s what kicked over the can and led me to an almost obsessive admiration of both Jean Leon Gerome the man and Jean Leon Gerome the artist. Some fifty years later my fascination for the images Jean Leon Gerome conjured has not waned, and I encourage you to look further into this great French artists career and catalog.
Jean Leon Gerome came to Paris in 1841, and entered the studio of the renown history painter Delaroche (1797-1856) the following year. Delaroche first exhibited at the Salon in 1822. ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ was enthusiastically received when exhibited at the Salon in 1834.Three years later, however, hostile criticism of the works he submitted discouraged Delaroche from exhibiting again at the Salon, however he went on to a very successful career as an artist and teacher.
Gerome was only twenty-two years old when he painted The Cock Fight, one of the masterpieces of the 1847 Salon, which was bought by the state. After exhibiting Anacreon, Bacchus and Amor at the Salon the following year, Gerome traveled throughout Italy, Turkey, the area around the Danube, and Egypt, from where he brought back a large number of studies that reveal his taste for Orientalism.
Back in France in 1855, his works, such as the two famous historical compositions The Century of Augustusand The Birth of Christ, continued to bring him success. A great admirer of Ingres (1780-1867), Gerome
specialized in extremely technically accurate and exquisitely sensual reconstructions of Antique scenes (King Candaules, 1859, The Death of Caesar, 1867), becoming the head of the ‘neo-Greek’ school.
Gerome ‘s marriage to the daughter of the famous art dealer Goupil (1840-1884) further contributed to his success. His most minor works sold for considerable prices, and some, such as Duel After a Masked Ball, even became popular outside France, thanks to engraving and photography. His career peaked in the 1860s.
In 1863, he was made a teacher at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in 1865 a member of the Institute, and in 1867 an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Yet, at the end of his life, convinced of the mediocrity of his canvases and not afraid to proclaim it, Gerome gave up painting in favor of traditional sculpture (The Gladiators, 1878) and the renaissance of polychrome sculpture Tanagra (1890).
As a teacher, he had a strong influence on his pupils, and although he hated the new wave of Impressionism, he was friends with Manet and Degas.
Gerome represents the perfect example of the successful Academic artist, in painting as well as in sculpture and his paintings have become even more popular and well known in the Twenty First Century as they were in the Nineteenth, when you think of Orientalism you immediately think of Jean Leon Gerome
I have, I guess like most men,an attraction to the visceral, its in out natures I suppose. My interest drew me to a fascination with gladiatorial combat, as a boy I was entranced by its history and its imagery, that is why I was so drawn by the photograph opposite that day at the Courtauld . My favorite movies were “Blood and Sandals” movies, usually staring Kirk Douglas. I remember when the Ridley Scott film “Gladiator” came out, I must have been one of the first to see it and I still watch it at least once a month on video. If you share the same tastes then I have a real teat for you, take a look at this and consider where you would like it to hang in your home Pollice Verso – Thumbs Down
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