If you’re fortunate, you’ll come across an artist whose work speaks to you on a cellular level. For me, that artist is Jean-Leon Gerome. Every Gerome painting that I’ve seen has taken my breath away and transported me to a different time and place. I can’t see a Gerome painting without stopping to stare for a while.
Many of Gerome’s paintings have an ever-present touch of exoticism. From paintings set in the deserts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, to his dignified portraits of people of color, I find myself enchanted by his interpretation of the exciting world outside of Europe.
The painting that started it all: The Slave Market (1871) by Jean-Leon Gerome (Cincinnati Art Museum)
A short story: I saw my first Gerome painting when I was in Cincinnati several years ago. I decided to walk from my hotel to the Cincinnati Art Museum because it was less than two miles away, and I was in (relatively) good shape (side note: if you are ever in Cincinnati, you must stop by this museum. It’s a real gem!). Unfortunately, it began to rain and pour, and the next day, I had a cold so bad that I slept for half of the day and didn’t eat anything for dinner that evening (I recall making a hot toddy that helped tremendously, but I was still uncomfortable for a few days).
Back to the point: I laid eyes on The Slave Market (1871) and I stopped in my tracks. The painting was so powerful and full of raw emotion that I literally couldn’t move. The look of despair and anguish on the faces of the enslaved women stirred my soul. I knew, the moment that I saw this painting, that I’d never look at art with same eyes as I had when I first entered the museum. It’s the one work of art that I take with me, in spirit, wherever I go.
These photos fail to capture the emotion and realism on the subjects’ faces: this one must be experienced in person!
Thus began my love affair with Jean-Leon Gerome. Stay tuned for Part Two, where I discuss more about Gerome and why I’m discussing him on this blog (p.s. it’s relevant to some of the other things I’ve discussed here!) Talk to you all soon!