This painter was an immensely important artist in the 1800’s in France, during the height of the art period known for its Academic painting. His name was Jean-Léon Gérôme and he was an incredibly popular and influential teacher with a long list of successful pupils during his career, such as Mary Cassatt and Dennis Miller Bunker. Gérôme’s paintings were quite varied as he chose to paint several types of subjects, ranging from historical, Orientalism, mythological (Greek), portraits and whatever other themes his creative muse allowed.
He was born in 1824 in the hilly city of Vesoul, but as many artists did and still do, he headed for Paris to study art. The year was 1840 and his teacher in Paris was Paul Delaroche, with whom he traveled to Italy in 1843. They visited the Vatican, Rome, Florence, and Pompeii, taking in the cities and their culture, but Gérôme was more inclined to enjoy the more natural wonders of Italy. Unfortunately he became sick with a fever which necessitated a quick return to Paris in 1844.
When he recovered he took classes in the studio of Charles Gleyre. Soon after leaving Gleyre he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with hopes to win the coveted Prix de Rome, so that he could return to Italy again to study. He couldn’t win the Prix de Rome in 1846, but in 1847 his painting called The Cockfight, which was much influenced by his time in Gleyre’s studio, earned him a third place medal. It was the beginning of his successes, and although he never won the Prix de Rome, he did win with second place prizes for his two 1848 paintings.
In the 1850s Gérôme became very popular with French government, creating artworks such as a decorated vase that Emperor Napoleon III gave to Prince Albert, and a large historical painting on canvas for Alfred Emilien Comte de Nieuwerkerke, which was called Age of Augustus. The money he earned for his artworks helped finance trips first to Constantinople, then later to Turkey and Egypt. He continued to exhibit several canvases each year in Paris, sometimes religious motifs, sometimes historical and after his visit to Egypt, there were also several Orientalist paintings. He had continued successes until 1859 when he attempted to paint more classical themes, such as his painting of Caesar, as the public was just not interested.
The Institut de France accepted him as a member (on his fifth try) in 1865, and he also became a Knight in the Légion d'honneur, and subsequently he was made a Légion d'honneur officer in 1867. The British Royal Academy invited him to be an honorary member in 1859, and Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, awarded Gérôme the Grand Order of the Red Eagle, Third Class.
He had married a girl (almost twenty years younger than himself) named Marie; she was the daughter of art dealer Adolphe Goupil. The couple moved to Rue de Bruxelles, where they later had four daughters and one son. Besides painting, Gérôme also created sculptures, and he had largely extended his small house into a grand home to include a workshop for his sculptures, in addition to a studio for his paintings in the top floor of the building. Besides his famous sculptures like Tanagra and a victorious bronze gladiator, he made a statue he called Sorrow, which he’d made to place by his son’s grave in 1891. Gérôme was found lying dead in his studio on January 10, 1904, next to his painting called The Truth and a portrait of Rembrandt. He was given a simple funeral as per his request, but it was followed by a Requiem Mass that was attended by many artists, writers and prominent guests. Incidentally, Gérôme was also buried before Sorrow in the Montmartre Cemetery in northern Paris.