Jean-Léon Gérôme, was born May 11, 1824, in Vesoul, France. As a painter, sculptor, and teacher he was one of the most prominent late 19th-century academic artists in France. His best-known works are scenes inspired by his travels in Egypt. His particular style is now known as Academicism—work influenced by European academies or universities, specifically the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
Gérôme, whose father was a goldsmith, studied with Paul Delaroche. His historical and mythological compositions, such as Pygmalion and Galatea, were anecdotal, painstaking, often melodramatic, and frequently erotic. The surfaces of his paintings were highly finished, and he was fascinated with technical virtuosity. He was a good draftsman in the tight linear style of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and an inventive illustrator in the manner of Delaroche. A trip to Egypt in 1856 introduced an exotic element into his painting—e.g., Prayer in the Mosque of ʿAmr, Old Cairo (c. 1860).
Gérôme was a successful sculptor, during the last 25 years of his life he concentrated mostly on sculpture. His first work was a large bronze statue of a gladiator holding his foot on his victim, shown to the public at the Exposition Universelle of 1878. This bronze was based on the main theme of his painting Pollice verso (1872). The same year he exhibited a marble statue at the Salon of 1878, based on his early painting Anacreon, Bacchus and Cupid (1848). The Death of Caesar (1867), (Walters Art Museum), depicts the assassination in the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March.
Aware of contemporary experiments of tinting marble (such as by John Gibson) he produced Dancer with Three Masks (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen ), combining movement with colour (exhibited in 1902). His tinted group Pygmalion and Galatea provided his inspiration for several paintings in which he depicted himself as the sculptor who could turn marble into flesh; one example is Pygmalion and Galatea (1890) (Metropolitan Museum, New York). Among his other works are Omphale (1887), and the statue of the duc d’Aumale which stands in front of the château of Chantilly (1899).
He started experimenting with mixed ingredients, using for his statues tinted marble, bronze and ivory, inlaid with precious stones and paste. His Dancer was exhibited in 1891. His lifesize statue Bellona (1892), in ivory, bronze, and gemstones, attracted great attention at the exhibition in the Royal Academy of London.The artist then began an interesting series of Conquerors, wrought in gold, silver and gems — Bonaparte entering Cairo (1897); Tamerlane (1898) and Frederick the Great (1899).
As a highly successful artist and popular professor at Ecole de Beaux-Arts, Gérôme exerted great influence in the Paris art world and to generations of artists to follow. Gérôme was elected member of the Institut in 1865. His respect of the French academic traditions may be the cause of his public opposition to the work of Manet, Rodin, Puvis de Chavannes and the Impressionists, as late as 1893 he urged the government to refuse a bequest of 65 of their works.
Jean-Léon Gérôme died January 10, 1904 in Paris.