Working in Marble
Artist: Jean Leon Gerome
Title: Pygmalion or Working in Marble 1890
Signed lower left on portfolio cover
Medium: Oil on canvas/huile sur toile
Size: 18.75 x 15.75 in (50.5 x 39.5 cm)
Location: Dahesh Museum, New York
Gérôme's choice of referencing Pygmalion is an appropriate one for an artist of the academy. These artists were striving for accuracy so real that the sculpture itself might look alive. Academic art did not leave room for individual interpretation of the figure like modern sculpture does. Academic sculptures judged to be the most successful were those that also appeared to be the most real. With the juxtaposition of both the model and the sculpture, only the material of the sculpture indicates which one is real and which one has been created. Their forms are identical. But in this self-portrait Gérôme is not only highlighting his work as a sculptor, but his skills as a painter as well. Though his sculptural skills seem flawless, he makes it clear using paint that one figure is a real model while one is a plaster figure.
Self-portraits like this one are an interesting topic to consider. Perhaps, for the reasons discussed above, Gérôme chose to compare himself to Pygmalion. But look around Gérôme's studio. How else is he portraying himself? Even though he is carving and molding a plaster cast, his studio is remarkably clean. He has also inserted other examples of his sculptural mastery into the painting, including the dancer with the hoop in the background, which was a model for another one of his sculptures. The bust on the shelf behind him is also another one of his sculptures, this time a portrait of the moon goddess Selene. Not only is he interested in the Greco-Roman sculptural heritage, the mask and other exotic objects placed along the back wall highlight his interest in foreign cultures.
Source Dahesh Museum Blog posted by Educator Gretchen Burch September 22, 2006