by Scholes, Robert
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Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 - 1904)
Jean-Léon Gérôme was born in Vesoul in the modern French department of Haute-Saône, to Pierre Gérôme, a goldsmith, and his wife. At school in Vesoul he did very well, in his final year receiving first prize in chemistry, an honourable mention in physics and another prize in oil painting, having commenced painting lessons at the age of 14 after five years of drawing classes. His drawing master was Claude-Basile Cariage, who may have worked in the studio of Ingres.In 1840 he set out for Paris with a letter of introduction to Paul Delaroche who was then at the height of his fame. In Paris he got very sound academic training, but Delaroche closed his studio, and Gérôme accompanied him on a trip to Italy. After returning he worked for a time with Charles Gleyre, and was able to get a painting into the Salon of 1847, where is was noticed by the poet and critic Théophile Gautier, who broght the young artist to the attention of the public, which led to both public and private commissions.
In the mid eitghteen fifties he made his first trip to the Near East, which started him in the direction for which he is best known--Orientalism. In nineteenth century Europe visual Orientalism involved a fascination with exotic places and scenes, but it also included a nostalgia for a culture in which women were very much in their place--which was usually the harem or the slave market. Orientalists like Gérôme used a realistic style to depict fantastic subject matter, creating waking dreams of male domination and female availability.
It did not hurt Gérôme's career that he married the owner of an art gallery, Marie Goupil. He became a very rich man, as well as a very popular painter, and he used his position to oppose the newer modes of painting, especially impressionism, which he detested.