History, mythology, Orientalism, portraiture, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s paintings had it all, & importantly many had a not so subtle dash of rampant sexuality thrown in. His glossy fantasy world was endlessly reproduced. No wonder Jean-Léon Gérôme was “arguably the world’s most famous living artist by 1880.”
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) knew the power of a nude. It is, of course, blatantly obvious that sexuality played a huge role in his success. His imagery is riddled with sex. Nudes parade nonchalantly around the environments in his canvases. He was delivering a fantasy Orient up to the masses. In fact many of painting’s environmets are simply 1800s softcore porn sets, on which to carefully drape a nude or nudes. Jean-Léon didn’t just cater for hetrosexual tastes, he provides plenty for fans of homoeroticism too.
He even turned “the making of” into a chance to show nudes. The making of paintings & sculptures of nudes in the studio he realised, was killer content. Turn of the century click bait. High art meets titillation.
Having said all that, what Gérôme creates is high art. The very highest. He was like no-one else. Technically there was no-one better.
Finally, it’s impossible to look at Gerome’s work through a politally correct 21st-century lens without being at least a tiny bit offended. But if we were to dismiss & decry art history based on our values now we’d have to start with Michelangelo, right?