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
The Orientalists: Painters Travelers
The American Pupils of Jean Leon Gerome
H. 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