Artist: Jean Léone Gérôme
Title: Arnaut Officer Guard, Cairo/corps de garde d'arnautes au caire
The year is 1674, and on the great Escalier des Ambassadeurs, in Versailles, Louis XIV is welcoming the Grand Condé, who has just defeated William of Orange in the battle of Seneffe. This event marked the end of almost fifteen years of exile for the Grand Condé, which had been designed by the king to punish "his cousin" for leading the Fronde against the monarchy.
Gérôme concentrated all his passion for historical reconstruction into this modest-sized painting, making use of different iconographic sources to lend the scene more credibility such as engravings of the Château de Versailles and portraits of the various persons represented.The composition is made dynamic by the high-angle view and the off-centring of the large compositional X structure. Gérôme employed a delicate palette in which the overall sense of clarity and the cool tones of the marble are invigorated by the colours of the costumes and flags.
In making this painting, Gérôme was hoping to find a buyer in the Duke of Aumale who was about to move into the Château de Chantilly, the Condés' former property. However, the transaction failed and the painting was sold to the American millionaire William Henry Vanderbilt instead. From 1886 to 1903 it was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, while the work became widely known in France through multiple engravings. After the second world war, it fell into relative obscurity. Source: Musée d'Orsay
The baroness Charlotte de Rothschild (1825-1899), who married her cousin Nathaniel (1812-1870) in 1842, was brought up surrounded by the artists her parents received and so went on to become a welcome figure in the world of artists and musicians. In 1835, Frederic Chopin, her piano teacher, dedicated one of his two opus 69 waltzes to her. However, she was more interested in visual arts than music and became a watercolorist, participating regularly at the Salon, and later in the exhibitions of the Société des Aquarellistes. The Baroness was also a remarkable collector with a taste for a variety of styles, as is suggested here by the eclectic and luxurious décor which surrounds her.
The portrait, painted by Gérôme in 1866, pays homage to Ingres'1848 portrait of the model's mother, Betty (1805-1886), which is housed in a private collection. Gerôme used a similar technique to Ingres; smooth and precise with sumptuous effects such as the marbled reflections of the dress, and he also borrowed the Ingres' positioning of the hand, supporting the chin.
Female portraits by Gérôme are rare; this is the first to enter the Musée d'Orsay collections, and only the third to be recorded in the French national collections. As well as representing the baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild, one of the mid-19th centuries most renowned figures, the portrait also embodies the atmosphere of the Parisian society of the age.
Source: Musée d'Orsay
This composition is after a preparatory drawing by Gérôme that was sold at Christie's, New York, May 22, 1997, entitled Venus playing with Putti by the Statue of Cupid. The drawing is lightly squared for transfer in black lead, and the figures are the same size as in the painting. There are differences between the preparatory drawing and the painting, the statue of Cupid and a decorated staff on the ground have been omitted in the oil, and the figure on the ground behind the legs of the main group is new. However, the central group of three figures is almost exactly the same as in the drawing.
Gérôme has signed his picture in italics, his practice in the fifties when signing oil sketches; his finished works were signed with Roman capitals. This painting may then be a preliminary oil sketch for a larger version of the subject not yet recovered, or perhaps never painted.
Please note than in Gerald Ackerman's revised monograph, (Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographe révisée, Catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 218, no. 33.5, illustrated p. 219) this work is reattributed to Studio of Gerome. Although a French translation of the above catalogue note also appears in his 2000 monograph, Mr. Ackerman now adds that the present work may be an esquisse for a larger work not yet discovered or perhaps never realized. He also feels that studio members may have been involved in the present work's execution as Mr. Ackerman considers the quality of the painting to be less than that of the drawing.
Source Prof. Gerald Ackerman Sotheby catalogue for the February 9, 1999 (lot 92)
The Snake Charmer focuses on a naked boy handling a python while an old man plays a fipple flute. Watching intently is a group of mercenaries differentiated by the distinctive costumes of their tribes, by ornaments, and by weapons. Such erotic and exotic imagery of Near Eastern subjects was very popular in the late nineteenth century. Despite the nearly photographic realism employed by Gérome, the painting is a pastiche of Egyptian, Turkish, and Indian elements that have no basis in reality.
Source: The Clark Institute