Jean-Léon Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor born on May 11, 1824. He was a proponent of the art style called Academicism, and had a range of paintings dealing with various themes including Orientalism, Greek mythology and historical paintings. His historical works, which showed such dramatic realism, are still honored to this day. He also created various portraits, and was lauded as the artist who brought the tradition of Academic painting to its climax. Jean-Léon Gérôme was considered a painter of high import during that particular period and was a great teacher to many art students, including Odilon Redon. His birthplace was listed as Vesoul, Haute-Saône.

Early Life

Gérôme studied in Paris in 1840 under Paul Delaroche and he went together with him to Italy in 1843 up to 1844. They visited Pompeii, the Vatican, Rome and Florence, although Gérôme was more attracted to nature than the manmade attractions. In 1844 he had to return to Paris due to an illness and later moved to the studio of Charles Gleyre where he studied for a short time. He later enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and tried to enter the Prix de Rome in 1846 but failed in the last stage as he lacked the skills in figure drawing. In trying to improve his painting skills, he created “The Cockfight” in 1846, which showed a young woman and a young man with fighting cocks. Shown in the background was the Bay of Naples. He entered the painting in the 1847 Paris Salon where he won a third class medal. It won the favor of Théophile Gautier, a very influential French critic, which brought instant fame to Gérôme. Due to this, he abandoned his desire of entering and winning in the Prix de Rome and concentrated on his newfound success. He created several paintings, including “Michelangelo,” “A Portrait of a Lady,” “Anacreon, Bacchus and Cupid” and ‘The Virgin, the Infant Jesus and St John,” some of which won medals in the Salons.

He decorated a vase in 1851 that was presented to Prince Albert by Emperor Napoleon III of France, which is now part of the Royal Collection in London’s St. James Palace. He also had exhibitions during the same year.

Gérôme - Harem Women Feeding Pigeons in a Courtyard

Valuable Commissions

Alfred Emilien Comte de Nieuwerkerke, the Surintendant des Beaux-Arts to Napoleon III’s court, presented Gérôme with a commission in 1852. His task was to create a large historical painting – “Age of Augustus” where he combined the birth of Jesus with the captured nations paying respect to Augustus. He used the sizeable downpayment to travel to Constantinople in 1853. He had several more trips to the East after that initial trip, visiting Turkey and Greece and even went to a Russian concert at the Danube.

In 1853 he moved to Boîte à Thé, located in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Paris where he met several actors, writers and artists, increasing his circle of acquaintances. The following year he received another commission. This time it was to decorate the Chapel of St. Jerome which was in the St. Séverin Church. His painting of the “Last Communion of St. Jerome” in the chapel showed the influence of the religious paintings of Ingres.


His first visit to Egypt was in 1856, which became the start of his foray into Orientalist painting, depicting landscapes in North Africa, genre scenes and canvases dealing with Arab religion. His reputation was also immensely enhanced by his participation in the Paris Salons in 1857 where he exhibited many works including “Camels Watering,” “Memnon and Sesostris,” “Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert” and “Duel: After the Masked Ball.” The following year he decorated the house of Prince Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte in the style of Pompeii in Paris. The Prince also bought one of his paintings, the “Greek Interior” that he did in 1850.

Photo Attribution:

Featured and 1st image by Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain or Public domain], <a href=””>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

2nd image by Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain], <a href=””>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

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