Description: Recrues égyptiennes traversant le désert (réduction) signed and dated 'J. L. Gérôme 1857' (lower right) oil on panel 15 x 24 1/4 in. (38.1 x 61.6 cm.) Painted in 1859.
Artist or Maker: Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)
Exhibited: New York, Old Art Union Gallery, The First Exhibition of Paintings of Artists of the French School, New York, 1857, no. 89 (an exhibition organised by Gambart).
New York, National Academy of Design, Collection of English and French Paintings, Second Annual Exhibition, 1859, no. 92 (bought by Harrison Earl(y)). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Annual Exhibition, 1860, 1861 and 1862 (Property of H. Earl(y)).
New York, Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, 1864 (property of M.O. Roberts).
Ohio, Dayton Art Institute, Gérôme, 10 November-30 December 1972, no. 6.
Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gérôme, 26 January-11 March 1973, no. 6.
Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, Gaerôme, 6 April-20 May 1973, no. 6.
Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada, The Other Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Tanenbaum, Spring-Summer, 1978, no. 31. (This exhibition later travelled to Victoria, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto).
Literature: Published as a photograph in Goupil's Galerie photographique, 1894; as Les Prisonniers.
Exhibition catalogue; First Exhibition of paintings by Artists of the French School, New York, 1857, no. 89.
Exhibition catalogue; Jean-Léon Gérôme 1824-1904, Ohio-Minneapolis-Baltimore, 1972, no. 6.
Exhibition catalogue; The Other Nineteenth Century, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Tanenbaum, Ottawa, Victoria, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, 1978, no. 31.
G.M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme: Monographies révisées, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 1986, 1992, 2000, p. 230, no. 68 (illustrated, p. 231).
G.M. Ackerman, La Vie et l'Oeuvre de J.-L. Gérôme, Paris, 1986, 1992 & 2000, p. 230, no. 68 (illustrated).
Provenance: with Goupil & Co., New York.
to Gambart, circa 1857.
Harrison Earl(y), New York, 1859.
M.O. Roberts, New York, 1864.
with the Schweitzer Gallery, New York by 1972.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Tanenbaum Collection, Toronto, 1972-78.
with Borghi & Co., New York.
Notes: Photogravure published by Goupil & Company, 1871-2, and 1883 as Les Prisonniers.
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The 'recruits' are actually a corvee of fellaheen, Egyptian peasants enrolled by the Viceroy of Egypt, Said Pasha, either into his army or into the workforce of the Suez Canal. At Asyut, in February of 1856, Gérôme himself had watched the forced recruitment group of felaheen by Arnaute officers.
The 'volunteers', of various ethnic groups, manacled in pairs, stumble through the chocking dust across the hot sands, in their exhaustion completely resigned to their fates. The Albanian guards, to either side, are so sure of the complete demoralization of their charges, that they march unconcerned before them. It is high noon, the sun is strong, the dust unremitting, the despair ubiquitous.
For the painter who had started his career as a neo-classicist, this was a great step forward by Gérôme into the contemporary realism of the mid-nineteenth century: a scene of everyday life (albeit contemporary Egyptian life), looked at rather objectively without dramatics or comment, and furthermore pleinairiste - that is, set outdoors at high noon, in strong sunlight burning through the clouds of dust.
When Gérôme returned to Paris in the summer of 1856, after eight months in Egypt and Sinai, he brought drawings and oil sketches of landscapes and figures, along with native costumes - including the Arnaute skirt and jacket - which he used to prepare five Orientalist subjects for the Salon of 1857. They were shown along with the famous Duel after the Ball. All five of the Orientalist paintings are still extant, divided between private and public collections.
A series of remarkable photos now in the Documentation of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris depict a model, posed and dressed like the centrally-placed guard. He stands before the back of a large canvas in the bright, noontime sun of a stable, either in Cairo or Paris. As sharp as Gérôme's eyes were, and as honed his drawing skill, he could not record with pencil the transient shadows on a pleated skirt at noon; the photographs were a necessary aid. His immense albeit youthful talent is witnessed by the conviction with which the scene - based on observation, photographs, and many preparatory drawings of models and costumes - was put together, seemingly seamlessly.
A larger version of this painting was shown at the Salon of 1857 and is now in the Najd Collection. The present version is entirely by Gérôme's own hand: all the traits of his developed technique are there, from the loose pencil tracings outlining the figures, to the small deft touches that securely build the values of the lights and shadows. The work seems a transparent whole and extremely fresh in execution.
For Americans our version has a special interest. It was exhibited several times in the United States, twice in New York, three times in the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia. Its cool objectivity and its fully realised thought probably gave the young Philadelphian, Thomas Eakins, the impetus that sent him to Paris to study with Gérôme.
We are grateful to Prof. Gerald M. Ackerman for kindly providing the catalogue entry for this work.
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