Jean-L�on G�r�me

(May 11, 1824 - 1904) A French painter and sculptor who produced many works in a historical, Orientalist style.

Gerome was born on May 11, 1824 in Vesoul, a town in the modern French department of Haute-Sa�ne, not far from Besan�on and the border with Switzerland. He was the first son of Pierre G�r�me, a goldsmith, and his wife Claude Fran�oise M�lanie Vuillemot, a merchant's daughter. At school in Vesoul he had much academic success from an early age, in his final year receiving first prize in chemistry, an honourable mention in physics and another prize in oil painting, having commenced painting lessons when aged 14 after five years of drawing classes. His drawing master was Claude-Basile Cariage, a strict task master in the academic methods who is thought to have once worked in the atelier of either J B Regnault or of Ingres.

His schooling complete, in 1840 at the age of 16, he set out for Paris with a letter of introduction to Paul Delaroche who was then at the height of his fame. Delaroche's style, which he naturally communicated to his students, was a fusion of the academic Neo-classical school and the dramatic subject matter of the romantics in which the universal themes of the former were replaced with the personal psychological studies typical of the latter, resulting in, what might be termed, a historical genre painting style. Delaroche also recommended the study of Phidias (i.e. casts after the friezes and pediments of the Parthenon) and, at that time, he had just completed his most famous work - the fresco in the Hemicycle of Fine Arts in the �cole des Beaux-Arts - the concept of which clearly owes a lot on Raphael's Vatican frescoes.

In the late 1840s the French government gave G�r�me a monumental commission to paint the massive Age of Augustus. In preparation for this commission, he traveled extensively in Europe and Asia Minor, documenting the customs of various regions. He spent two years working on the painting, tirelessly perfecting details of the various ethnic groups. With the money realized from this work, G�r�me indulged his wanderlust and spent several months traveling and sketching in Egypt.

Returning to Paris in the autumn of 1844, he entered the atelier of the famous Swiss painter and teacher Charles Gleyre who had more or less taken over from Delaroche. He was a popular teacher and an excellent and erudite draughtsman, with a technique in oils considered to be one of the most secure at the time - this when oil paint was not yet supplied in tubes and a careful scientific mixing was required to avoid rapid deterioration of the pigments over time. Amongst his many later famous students, to whom he had obviously imparted his special techniques, were Monet, Renoir, Bazille and Whistler. Besides the usual drawing or painting from a model or cast, Gleyre also taught composition - a rare occurrence in an atelier. Remembering his own poverty as a student, he never charged attendance fees at his classes

In 1854 G�r�me made a journey to Turkey and the shores of the Danube, and in 1857 visited Egypt. To the exhibition of 1855 he contributed a Pifferaro, a Shepherd, A Russian Concert and a large historical canvas, The Age of Augustus and the Birth of Christ. The last was somewhat confused in effect, but in recognition of its consummate ability the State purchased it.

In Caesar (1859) G�r�me tried to return to a severer class of work, but the picture failed to interest the public. Phryne before the Areopagus, Le Roi Candaule and Socrates finding Alcibiades in the House of Aspasia (1861) gave rise to some scandal by reason of the subjects selected by the painter, and brought down on him the bitter attacks of Paul de Saint-Victor and Maxime Du Camp. At the same Salon he exhibited the Egyptian chopping Straw, and Rembrandt biting an Etching, two very minutely finished works.

At the end of 1861 G�r�me planned an eight month visit to Egypt and the Near East with the intention, following his return, of marrying the daughter of Adolphe Goupil, his dealer. But his plans were endangered by a duel. An exchange of violent words with a certain Mr Stevens, an art dealer, (possibly over a woman) upon leaving a party led to the challenge. He had never duelled before and his opponent was experienced. Apparently his doctor, Dr Lorrain, arrrived just in time to advise him to stand sideways. This must have saved him, since the bullet of his adversary hit his right wrist en route to lodging in his shoulder. Not to be deterred, however, G�r�me set off for Egypt with his arm still in a sling. In the same trip he also visited Judea, Syria and the Holy Places. Upon his return he married Marie Goupil (1842-1912) as originally planned.

G�r�me's best paintings are of Eastern subjects; among these may be named the Turkish Prisoner and Turkish Butcher (1863); Prayer (1865); The Slave Market (1867); and The Harem out Driving (1869). He often illustrated history, as in Louis XIV and Moli�re (1863); The Reception of the Siamese Ambassadors at Fontainebleau (1865); and the Death of Marshal Ney (1868).

G�r�me was also successful as a sculptor; he executed, among other works; Omphale (1887), and the statue of the duc d'Aumale which stands in front of the ch�teau of Chantilly (1899). His Bellona (1892), in ivory, metal, and precious stones, which was also exhibited in the Royal Academy of London, attracted great attention. The artist then began an interesting series of Conquerors, wrought in gold, silver and gems Bonaparte entering Cairo (1897); Tamerlane (1898); and Frederick the Great (1899).

On the 31st December 1903, G�r�me wrote to his student and former assistant Aublet, "I begin to have enough of life. I've seen too much misery and misfortune in the lives of others. I still see it every day, and I'm getting eager to escape this theatre." He was to live just ten more days and perhaps knew that his heart was weakening. Yet, ever energetic, he still planned another trip to Monte Carlo. On the 9th of January he had lunch with his brother-in-law L�on Cl�ry and the widow of the painter Alfred Stevens, afterwards showing them round his studio. In the evening he dined with friends from the Institute. However the next morning, the maid found him dead in the little room next to his atelier, slumped in front of a portrait of Rembrandt and at the foot of his own painting The Truth.

G�r�me's highly finished mythological and history paintings were anecdotal, painstaking, often melodramatic, and frequently erotic. For the last twenty-five years of his life, he concentrated on sculpture. His studio became a meeting place for artists, actors, and writers, and he was appointed a professor at the �cole des Beaux-Arts. G�r�me became a legendary and respected master, noted for his sardonic wit, lax discipline, regimented teaching methods, and extreme hostility to the Impressionists.


- By Julie V.

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