Corinth, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, preempted by the Musée d’Orsay

1. Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
Corinth, 1903-1904
Polychrome plaster, coloured wax and
metallic wire -
47.5 x 33 x 30 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Sotheby’s

5/7/08 — Acquisition — Paris, Musée d’Orsay — This strange and disturbing masterpiece (ill. 1) has just been acquired by the Musée d’Orsay at the Sotheby’s sale in Paris on 25 June 2008 for 456,750€ (including charges). The nude woman represented here sitting with her legs crossed wearing only jewelry, leaves the viewer with an unforgettable impression. The flesh-coloured paint and the classical canon of beauty give the personification of the city of Corinth a very strong realist imprint despite its reduced size. At the same time, the affected pose, the piercing look, the refined jewels, transform the figure into an image of the “femme fatale”, mysterious and threatening, as depicted by Symbolist artists.

Corinth [1], is one of Gérôme’s last works, produced in 1903-1904. The rome plaster piece acquired by Orsay comes directly from the sculptor’s heirs. The marble figure, which was left unfinished by Gérôme, was completed by his assistant Emile Decorchement and exhibited at the Salon in 1904 on top of a Corinthian column, of course. At least one other marble version and six in bronze, posthumous productions obviously, exist. Gérôme had specialized in polychrome sculptures, thanks to the use of tinted marble which he sometimes mixed with bronze or other materials, either precious or not (the jewels on Corinth are made of wax). Orsay also owns a Bust of Sarah Bernhardt and a Chryselephantine Figure, the museum in Vesoul a sculpture of Bellona and Caen a Woman Playing Balls.

2. Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
Two Italian
Peasant Women and a Child
, 1849
Oil on canvas - 88.3 x 67.9 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Musée d’Orsay

In 2004, the Musée d’Orsay had acquired two paintings by Gérôme, The Reception of the Grand Condé in Versailles (see news item of 28/10/04 in French onLa Tribune de l’Art) as well as a superb Portrait of the Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild. Another canvas, (ill. 2) was purchased in 2007 from a New York art dealer, Jack Kilgore, who had just presented it at Maastricht. It is an early work — but painted nonetheless three years after the Cockfight shown at the Salon de 1846 — and reveals still another aspect of an artist who is much more complex than commonly thought. Orsay will devote a retrospective to Gérôme in the fall of 2010.

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 5 juillet 2008


[1] Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 2000, cat. S63, p. 402.

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