Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824–1904),
The Grief of the Pasha
oil on canvas mounted on masonite, 36 3/8 x 29 in., 92.4 x 73.6 cm
Gift of Francis T. B. Martin, 1990.1
Born in Vesoul, the son of a silversmith, Gérôme went to Paris at the age of fifteen and studied under the history painter Paul Delaroche (1797–1856). A trip to Rome and further study in Paris with the Swiss classicist Charles Gleyre (1808–1874) determined Gérôme’s early themes. He established his reputation as a Néo-Grec (New Greek) with a series of classical genre paintings portraying scenes of everyday events in ancient times. Trips to Turkey and Egypt provided him with the subject matter for which he is perhaps best known, but he continued to address a variety of topics throughout his long and successful career. Awarded a series of lucrative official commissions and every honor available to a French artist of his time, Gérôme was an influential teacher whose students included Pierre Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, and the American Thomas Eakins. Gérôme’s lifelong opposition to such artistic innovations as Impressionism is clearly shown by his public protest against Manet’s posthumous retrospective and his organization of a petition to the French Sénat opposing the acceptance of the Caillebot collection of Impressionist paintings for the Louvre.
As demonstrated by Grief of the Pasha, Gérôme’s paintings tend to be relatively small in size yet capable of expressing great scale. Using a painstaking technique that left no trace of the brushstroke, Gérôme conjured up, in photographic realism, scenes and events remote in time or place. Here he portrays a Turkish ruler (a Pasha was a military governor in the Ottoman Empire) mourning the death of his favorite pet. That the animal is nothing less than a full-grown tiger distinctly adds to the Arabian Nights atmosphere, but it is possible that the artist meant the image to symbolize the decline of the Ottoman Empire itself. Whatever the message, the painting allowed Gérôme to demonstrate his ability to capture a variety of textures— cool marble, gorgeous fabrics, delicate flowers, and soft fur — in what American novelist Henry James admired as “that hard consummate finish.”