Jean Leon Gerome

Armand Cabrera

Jean Leon Gerome was born in Vesoul, France in 1824. He was the son of a wealthy goldsmith. Gerome studied Greek, Latin and history at Vesoul College before enrolling in the Paris School of Fine Arts under Paul Delaroche. In his third year there the Atelier was closed after an incident of hazing resulted in a student’s death.

Gerome travelled to Italy for a year and after returning to Paris enrolled in Charles Gleyre’s studio. Gerome only stayed with Gleyre for three months but by all account learned a great deal from the master, although Gerome never acknowledged Gleyre’s influence on him.
In 1847 Gerome had his first salon entry, a painting of young Greeks holding a cock fight. Although the painting was skied it received favorable attention for its quality, attention to detail and subject matter.

Gerome would build his artistic career on subjects from antiquity and the Middle East. According to his biographer Gerald Ackerman, nearly half of Gerome’s paintings were orientalist in nature.
Gerome also had commissions from the government that helped build his career. Gerome also married Marie Goupil the daughter of Adolphe Goupil, one of the most influential art dealers of the time.

Gerome’s first trip to Egypt was in 1857, there were to be many more through his lifetime. His paintings were very popular at the salons and he commanded high prices for his work. He eventually stopped taking commissions because of his success. This freed the artist to pursue themes important to him as opposed to his patrons.

In 1863 the government sponsored Ecole des Beauxs Arts appointed Gerome as head of one of its ateliers. Gerome would continue to teach for the next 40 years. He influenced thousands of young artists and was a highly respected teacher. His American pupils included Thomas Eakins, Kenyon Cox, Julian Alden Weir, George DeForest Brush, Abbott Handerson Thayer, George Bridgman, Dennis Miller Bunker, and William MacGregor Paxton to name just a few.

In the 1870’s Gerome was an outspoken opponent of the impressionists and what he saw as a lowering of artistic standards. The fights were very public and as the shift to the new art style took hold he was continuously vilified by critics and younger artists.
Another issue Gerome was on the wrong side of was allowing women to the Ecole. Beginning in the late 1880’s the matter became heated with constant petitions for women to be allowed into the Ecole and to be able to attend the life drawing classes. Gerome who was on the council for the Ecole at the time voted against both changes.

Although the world had passed him by Gerome had been successful enough to live comfortably his whole life. Gerome died five months before his 80th birthday. At the time of his death in 1904 his estate was worth 1.7 million francs not including real estate.
In the ensuing years he was nearly forgotten in France and in the 1950’s his paintings were almost worthless. Recently though, important Gerome paintings regularly command prices of 2 million pounds at auction.

The life and work of Jean Leon Gerome
A catalogue Raisonne

Gerald Ackerman
ACR Publishing

The Orientalists: Painters Travelers
Lynne Thornton
ACR Publishing

The American Pupils of Jean Leon GeromeH. Barbara Weinberg
Amon Carter Museum Press

I hate imitators, people who put works together out of older works, these men are blind unless they are looking with someone else’s eyes, and who produce only the mistakes of the master they draw from. These, one doesn’t even want to talk about; one must simply call them ‘Eunuchs’ ~ Jean Leon Gerome

7 thoughts on “Jean Leon Gerome

  1. Why is it that when a new movement in art emerges, the reaction is that that movement is the only valid form of expression. The old is pushed away while the new is embraced. Impressionism made a huge impact on the world of art but that doesnt mean that everything before that suddenly has to become invalid.
    If Gerome has but considered it and applied his own sensibilities to the principles of impressionism, can you imagine what could have been produced. I think of how Turners work was always grasping at the new. It is a real reminder to remain flexible in your thinking as it relates to the new and the old.
    What do you think?

  2. Hi Gregory—Diane here for Armand. He's painting on Catalina Island, CA for the week. Armand asked me to tell you that you posted a great question. Since it's not a one line answer, he'll respond when he gets back next week. Thanks!

  3. Well let me just say..
    Hi Gregory! Fancy meeting you here!:)
    There are a couple of Gerome pieces at the museum here in Mpls.
    that I've enjoyed for many years.
    His style is superb! His paintings are magic.
    As I became aware of "newer" artists,I also gained a respect for the older ones.
    Yes, always good to stay "open" to
    new things, I agree.
    However are you impling that Rembrandt would have been awsome if
    he would have tried Monet or Dali?
    I think at some point, an artist
    gets "grounded" in an area or vein
    and there is plenty to "farm" already.
    I'd heard that Rockwell enjoyed
    Polock, even did a few splatters, but stayed true to his way of painting.
    To say if Gerome had applied his
    own sensabilities to impressionism
    is like saying if Mick Jagger did
    Hip Hop.. Maybe you can imagine this, but in the real world it doesn't (didn't) happen.
    There are computer programs today
    that let you write a new Beatles
    song. They are actually sort of
    sickning, if you hear them.
    I disagree. Gerome was "old school" to the impressionists, and
    to try it on would be like Grandma in a mini skirt(ha)
    To every time ther is a season my friend.

  4. Hi, I'm kinda new to blogging, but when I stumble on an insightful well written blog like yours I realize what I've been missing. Before, it was easy to think I'm part of a small minority. But you confirm an ever growing number of Artists who refuse to swallow the status quo. I can see a time comming when there will be so many voices speaking truth, that it can't be marginalized by the Art elite. Further…
    Ok, this feels a little over the top, I think you get it. good going! Thanks,Rick

  5. Greg,

    I agree with you, I guess though it must be tough as an individual when you see something replace you and you're not finished yet; you automatically see that system as a threat. The people replacing you usually think you have everything they want and feel they must destroy you instead of exist with you. Maybe that is just human nature, because I see it with everything we do, religion, politics, work, you name it.
    Later in his life Gerome and the other academics did incorporate modern ideas of color into their work of course they could'nt understand the other isms that followed, so I guess there is a limit to our abilities to accept everything as valid.

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