For me the big three artists that have effected and affected me the most are Leyendecker, Bouguereau, and Gerome. And probably, but not necessarily in that order. Gerome was a master like Rockwell of telling stories. Sometimes the stories were true, but his paintings carry such detail, clarity, and exactness in their execution, that it lends credence, veracity, and the impression that they are “True”. The truth is that the by an extreme verisimilitude to historical and palpable details his “Stories” are easy to take as reality rather than as cleaver deception. They represent the ideal. Seldom in Gerome’s oeuvre will you find a cloudy day or an ugly man or woman. Rather, you find idyllic settings, with waning summer sunlight, under clear blue skies, with ornate if not opulent costumes, jewelry and props, and always “A Man’s” man. Women are depicted, as they have been throughout literary history, as a temptress, seductress, and a necessary evil. What makes his pictures ever the more believable, is that we subliminally want them to be true. We want to imagine, as in his “Oriental” paintings, that places such as ornate bathhouses, opulent palaces, and that the barbaric and gratuitous displays wanton sexuality and male virility really exist in some far off land we have not yet been privy to. We want these tales to be true, but we know, in the back of our minds, that they probably aren’t. It is the same reason that tabloids sell week after week with stories of Bad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We want to be allowed into the inner sanctum of their passion, wealth, and of course beauty. In a sense, Gerome, or at least his paintings, are the precursor to big budget movies such as Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and more recently Prince of Persia. It is our enchantment with the foreign, that is Gerome’s greatest ally.

When one speaks of patience there are four artists whose patience trumps all others, namely Gerome, Vibert, Bargue, and Messionier. Interestingly, all four used variations on miniaturist technique. Vibert and Bargue were actually known to use the infamous single hair brushes. These four artists were known for their “licked” finish. A term coined from the actual act of licking ones bush to bring it to a fine point. This technique landed Bargue in the hospital with lead poisoning…but his pictures are pretty. 🙂 Ultimately, these painters were the dictionary definition of patient. Gerome carefully studied the tiled wall patterns in such detail that he represented them nearly flawlessly. Among his traveling companions he was known as the “Colonel” because he drew from sun up till down with militaristic precision and effort. Gerome was able paint in the small detailed manner, but he was also able to carry off larger pieces with the same veracity. Ecole de Beaux Art in Paris, traditionally only a drawing school, by royal decree was forced to create a painting department. Gerome, was made the head of that inaugural office.

Here are some of the pieces from the show that gave me the most food for thought.

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