Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) was one of the most famous French painters of his day. In the course of his long career, he was the subject of controversy and bitter criticism, in particular for defending the conventions of the waning genre of Academic painting, under attack by Realists and Impressionists. However, Gérôme was not so much heir to this tradition as a creator of totally new pictorial worlds, often based on a strange iconography that favoured erudite subjects. Painting history, painting stories, painting everything — this was Gérôme’s great passion. He intrigued the public with his constant interplay of values and genres, blended in an aesthetic of collage and rearrangement. His skill in creating images, in presenting an illusion of reality through artifice and subterfuge went hand in hand with paintings that were perfectly finished yet not perfect.
As a very unorthodox academic painter, Gérôme knew how to represent history as a dramatic spectacle and, by creating particularly convincing images, could make the spectator an eyewitness to events ranging from classical antiquity to his own times. Gérôme’s paintings became widely known thanks to the engravings and photographic reproductions that started being issued in 1859 on commission from dealer and publisher Adolphe Goupil, who would later become Gérôme’s father-in-law. Gérôme carefully chose the subjects with the intention of creating images that could readily become visual icons in popular culture.
This exhibition, the first monograph on this artist in Spain, sheds light on the most noteworthy features of his painting and sculpture from his early career in the 1840s up to his last works.