Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 - 1904)

Lot 193: Jean-Léon Gérôme , French 1824-1904 Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul oil on canvas


April 18, 2008
New York, NY, US

More About this Item

Description: signed J. L. GEROME. (lower right) oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements 26 5/8 by 34 7/8 in. alternate measurements 67.6 by 88.5 cm
Provenance: Possibly, Goupil & Cie., Paris (acquired directly from the artist)
John Levy Galleries, New York, no. 24411
The A.B. Closson, Jr. Co., Cincinnati, Ohio
Cornelius and Anna Cook O'Brien, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (acquired from the above in March, 1935)
Mary O'Brien Gibson, Washington, D.C. (by descent from the above, her parents)
Thence by descent to the present owners
Notes: Please note that Gerald Ackerman thinks this work should be attributed to Gérôme's Studio. This catalogue entry was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks.
Though many Orientalist paintings lose their credibility upon close examination, and have therefore been interpreted as a European artist's mangled understanding of the Middle East, the details of this picture suggest another narrative. Here, in a major work by the most recognized Orientalist painter of the nineteenth century, lost to history until today, Jean-Léon Gérôme demonstrates both his encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East and his profound respect for some of its most distinctive cultural traditions. Surprisingly, given his reputation today, Gérôme did not make his name with his Orientalist works. Rather, he began his career by painting portraits and anecdotal scenes of ancient Greece and Rome. He soon adopted a more realistic approach, for which he achieved an almost unprecedented level of fame. (Indeed, for productivity, financial success, length of career, and influence, no other painter shaped French art more authoritatively than Gérôme.) In 1855, Gérôme received a commission from the French Government for the Universal Exhibition. Gérôme chose an ambitious allegorical subject, The Age of Augustus (present location unknown), depicting the world at peace under the Roman Emperor. (This was meant as a symbolic representation of the glorious new reign of Emperor Napoleon III.) With the advance for the work (Gérôme was ultimately paid 20,000 francs, or about $70,000 today), the artist traveled to Russia and the Balkans, searching for various ethnic models to include in his composition. The rest of the payment, made in 1856, would finance Gérôme's first trip to Egypt - a journey that would have a profound effect on his career. From 1856 forward, Gérôme submitted Orientalist pictures to the Paris Salon, along with the society portraits and historical genre scenes audiences had come to expect. Impressively, given this breadth of subject, approximately a third of Gérôme's finished paintings depict Orientalist themes. In his capacity as a professor for nearly forty years at the Ècole des Beaux-Arts, Gérôme influenced many of his students to travel to the Middle East, and his new, "documentary" style of painting would establish itself as the definitive model for Orientalist painting in the second half of the nineteenth century. Gérôme's own sketching expeditions to Egypt would continue through the 1860s and 1870s; other destinations included Turkey, Spain, Algiers, Syria, and Palestine. Throughout his travels, Gérôme made hundreds of sketches and studies and amassed an impressive collection of photographs and local goods, which were later used toward the meticulously detailed, highly polished oil paintings executed at his Paris studio. As he himself wrote of these preparatory materials, "I did not know beforehand what I was going to do with these studies, nor with all the others I brought back from travels. It is only later ideas come; there is an unconscious labor in the brain and, suddenly, they are born!" (quoted in Fanny Field Hering, Gérôme, his Life and Works [New York, 1892], 143). Particular subjects and even specific objects reappear time and time again, becoming favorite motifs of the artist. Gérôme's predilection for blue and white tiles, for example, is evident in countless of his works, and in vastly different contexts (fig. 1). His fascination with Muslim figures at prayer is also well documented and, as a subject, forms a distinctive subgroup within his Orientalist paintings (fig. 2). But it is the particular union of patterns, themes, and images in this work, and the precision of the details, that differentiates it from so many of Gérôme's compositions. For, rather than offering us a gallery of favorite devices, here Gérôme offers an almost unerring representation of one of the most beautiful sites in Istanbul, Rüstem Pasha Mosque.υ1 Located in the midst of bustling markets in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, Rüstem Pasha mosque was designed by Sinan, master architect to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), and the favorite of members of the upper echelons of the Ottoman court. Though he would work on, oversee and plan approximately 400 buildings by the time of his death in 1588, of which 100 alone are mosques, it would be at Rüstem Pasha Mosque that Sinan would develop his trademark dome, his greatest contribution to Ottoman architecture. The commission for this mosque came from Rüstem Pasha (1500-1561) himself, a general in the Ottoman army and the son-in-law of Süleyman. At the behest of the Sultan's wife Roxelana, Rüstem was made Grand Vizier. (Rüstem would later become famous for plotting with Roxelana to kill Süleyman's son and heir to the throne.) Rüstem accumulated a vast fortune during his career, consisting of property, cash, thousands of beautifully calligraphed volumes, and other luxuries. When it came time to solidify his wealth and create his own pious foundation, Rüstem Pasha chose a site at the foot of Süleyman's grand complex, in deference to the Sultan. (Though seemingly modest, this was actually a valuable piece of commercial land, which Rüstem had to go to great lengths to acquire.) Work on the mosque was ongoing at the time of Rüstem's death in 1561, and his wife had to petition her father the Sultan for the funds to complete the project. The mosque, finished one year later, comprises a rectangular prayer hall with a central dome (15.2 meters in diameter and 22.8 meters high), preceded by a porch with five domes and flanked by two-storied aisles (fig. 3). The dome rests on a high octagonal base, supported by the exterior walls and four massive piers. Four semidomes fill the corner spaces. Perhaps the most famous aspect of Rüstem Pasha Mosque, however, which still draws crowds today, is the extensive use of Iznik tiles. (These tiles were produced by potters in the city of Iznik, whose skills were, during the elaborate building campaigns of the mid-sixteenth century, increasingly in demand. Interestingly, Sinan had used these tiles only sparingly in the grander Süleymaniye Mosque, also of his design.) The tiles adorn the walls, piers, mihrab (sacred niche), and minbar (pulpit) of the mosque's interior, in a dizzying pattern of stylized and more relaxed, free-flowing floral and foliate designs (fig. 4). The designs, which include both compositions spread over many tiles and crafted to fit a specific surface and mass-produced modular tiles cut to fit the wall on which they were installed, are executed on a white slip in black, purple, cobalt blue, turquoise, and the famous "coral" red - a rare and difficult color to produce in tile work -- under a transparent glaze. Some of the design motifs echo those found in contemporary textiles, the production of which had been spurred by Rüstem's astute fiscal policies. In this oil painting, Gérôme takes great delight in recording the precise patterns of these tiles, focusing our attention on that part of the mosque in which they were most lavishly displayed. He shows us the qibla, or the wall that faces Mecca, and toward which Muslims pray. At the far right of the picture is the minbar, the pulpit from which the sermon is delivered. The curtained doorway, steep stairs, and ornately carved, pointed canopy are characteristic Ottoman features. The scallop-pattern of the mihrab, located, as always, to the left of the minbar, and here flanked by monumental candlesticks, is also typical. Above the niche is a line from the Qur'an, written left to right in Arabic calligraphy: "God said, Every Time Zakria [Zachariah] went into her mihrab [sanctuary]." It is from the third Sura, known as "The House of Imran," and is one of several in the Qur'an devoted to the Virgin Mary.υ2 In its entirety, the Sura reads: "When the wife of the Imran said, "Lord I have vowed to Thee, in dedication, what is within my womb. Receive Thou this from me; Thou hearest and knowest." And when she gave birth to her she said, "Lord, I have given birth to her, a female." (And God know very well what she had given birth to; the male is not as the female.) "And I have named her Mary, and commend her to Thee with her seed, to protect them from the accursed Satan." Her Lord received the child with gracious favour, and by His goodness she grew up comely, Zachariah taking charge of her. Every time Zachariah went into her Sanctuary, he found her provisioned. "Mary," he said, "how comes this to thee?" "From God," she said. Truly God provisions whomsoever He will without reckoning. Then Zachariah prayed to his Lord saying, "Lord give me of Thy goodness a goodly offspring. Yea, thou hearest prayer." (Sura 3:37) An oil sketch by Gérôme, given by member of the artist's family to the Musée Georges-Garret Vesoul in France, again depicts this section of the mosque (fig. 5). A comparison between the two works suggests that this was a preparatory study for the finished oil, as the angle from which Gérôme draws is nearly the same. So too, as if to be sure to remember them accurately once back in his Paris studio, Gérôme has taken great care to record the Arabic text above the mihrab and the precise patterns of the Iznik tiles. Curiously, however, given this dedication to architectural detail, Gérôme replaces the leaded glass window with a stained glass one in the later composition. Though inaccurate in this particular location, stained glass was not entirely out of place: many of Istanbul's most famous mosques had colored glass windows, Rüstem Pasha among them.υ3 Such departures from reality would only increase with time. In 1878 Gérôme painted a second version (fig. 6). In this more peopled work, the artist has traded his colorful window for the more accurate one, but he has also changed the Arabic text above the mihrab and redesigned the tiles. In countless images of prayer, in fact, Gérôme would cut and paste his settings, becoming increasingly concerned with the visual impact of his paintings, rather than their historical accuracyυ.4 (Indeed, and to show the extent to which the artist would go, in a letter to the dealer Knoedler, Gérôme once explained: "Prayer in the Mosque had been reserved by Monsieur Simon and I remember that he made me put a figure facing the spectator, by saying that since all the others were seen from the back or in profile, it would not sell. I did as he wanted because his reasons were commercially sound," [Letter to Knoedler, 8 June 1903, Custodia foundation, Fritz Lugt collection, Netherlands Institute, Paris]. As Gérôme well knew, such a thing would never have been witnessed in a mosque; all prayed toward Mecca, and therefore in the same direction.)υ5 While of no matter to his nineteenth-century clients, who purchased such pictures almost before the paint was dry, Gérôme's artistic liberties have led modern scholars to roundly condemn him for his blatant disregard for Middle Eastern culture. The Vesoul sketch makes it clear that Gérôme visited Rüstem Pasha Mosque during the course of his travels, but the intricacy of his rendition suggests the use of photographs as well. French artists were among the first to exploit the recording capacities of this new technology, and from as early as 1839, the monuments of the Middle East became a favorite focal point. Gérôme's own appreciation of photography is well documented: his first teacher, Paul Delaroche (1797-1856), was among those in attendance when Daguerre's new photographic process was introduced in August 1839, and, upon his first trip to Egypt in 1856-7, Gérôme was accompanied by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, who took along a camera and related apparatus (Gerald Ackerman, The Life and Works of Jean-Léon Gérôme, London and Paris, 1986, 44). Gérôme's brother-in-law, Albert Goupil (1840-1884), was an amateur photographer himself, and accompanied the artist on his 1868 trip to Egypt (Ackerman, 62, 78; Hering, 170). Albert would go on to become one of the most important early French collectors of Islamic art. Of course, what the camera could not record - and what Gérôme in this picture mastered -- were the vibrant colors of the Middle East. Here, in addition to the blue and white tiles, Gérôme has recorded, in painstaking detail, each saturated hue of the woven carpet and, in that momentary departure from reality, every light-infused plate of the colored glass window. The red caps and expertly-wrapped green and white turbans of the praying figures, moreover, both catch the eye and draw it toward similar, if at times more subtle, uses of these colors in the composition. Gérôme's adeptness at this formal game, and his skill at capturing the filtered effects of sunlight, be it through stained glass windows or other apertures, located outside the picture plane, are virtually unequalled in French Orientalism. The decorously attired men in Gérôme's picture exhibit various stages of the daily Muslim prayers - indeed, as if drawn from the pages of an instructional manual, they adopt exactly those six postures of prayer which comprise the first raka, from the initial standing Qiyam to the last prostrate Sajda. (Gérôme's tendency to quote from literary sources, such as Edward William Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians is well documented, and often resulted in his figures being called "wooden.") In the center of the composition, however, one man departs from the norm. He raises his hands, palms facing the qibla, as if to recite "Allah-o-Akbar" ("God is Great"). This expressive gesture was part of the prayer ritual, to be sure, but it was usually made while standing, during Qiyam. Rather than an observational oversight on the part of the artist, however, or an instance of cultural disregard, this compositional decision might have been meant as a deliberate allusion to character. Oft repeated in Gérôme's images of prayer, this unkempt individual may be representative of a particular mystical religious order, or even that revered member of nineteenth-century Muslim society - the madman. Whoever he is, his inclusion gives to Gérôme's picture a deeper meaning: here, in this place of sanctuary, all are equal in the eyes of God. In January 1862, Gérôme married Marie Goupil, the daughter of the influential art publisher and art dealer Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893). Goupil's firm, with branches in London, Brussels, and Berlin, and correspondent galleries in New York (later Knoedler's) and the Hague, was the foremost producer of fine but inexpensive photogravure prints of modern painters. Throughout the 1860s, Goupil would not only organize the worldwide distribution of prints of Gérôme's paintings and, eventually, his sculptures, he would also obtain for the artist the patronage of European and American collectors, who were now beginning to form major art collections. "Goupil is simply a geographical astonishment," wrote one contemporary admirer, "He has no more difficulty in placing a good picture on the Pacific coast than in the shadow of his own (Paris) gallery," (quoted in Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed., The Art Treasures of America being the Choicest Works of Art in the Public and Private Collections of North America, Philadelphia, 1879-1880, 2: 47).υ6 By 1880, 53 paintings by Gérôme were in (some of the wealthiest) American hands, with 34 being Orientalist in subject (Strahan, vols. 1-3). Impressive numbers indeed, for an artist who never set foot in the country! The original invoice for this picture from John Levy Galleries in New York dated March 14, 1935 (fig. 7) and given to the first known American owner, Cornelius O'Brien (see Provenance) states that it was "Purchased direct from the artist [Gérôme] by Messrs. Goupil & Co., Paris". John Levy was an important dealer during his day. Often observed bidding in New York art auctions, where he could almost always be seen seated in the front row, his list of purchases not only included paintings by Gérôme but also William Bouguereau. While a review of the Goupil and Knoedler ledgers and account books does not definitively identify the present painting, there is strong evidence to support that this picture was first handled by Knoedler in New York on September 25, 1871. This transaction has traditionally been thought to refer to Gérôme's Prayer in the Mosque, which was purchased by Catharine Lorillard Wolfe and bequeathed to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1887 (see Ackerman, 2000, p. 274, no. 200) (fig. 2.). However, the sale of the Gérôme to Catharine Lorillard Wolfe is clearly identified in the Knoedler stock book, no. 2 (April 1873-1878): 17 October 1874 Gérôme, Prière dans la Mosquée, f 40,000; 13 November 1874, Miss. C.L. Wolfe, $10,670. In addition, the Goupil and Knoedler ledgers and sales books mention a Gérôme painting titled La prière which moved from Paris to New York and back to Paris in the fall 1871 and winter 1872 with a value listed between 12,000 and 14,000 francs (again this is the transaction that has traditionally been assumed to be for the Wolfe sale). It seems improbable that these 1871/72 and 1874 transactions represent the same painting as it is unlikely that the price Miss Wolfe paid for her painting in 1874 (40,000 francs) would have tripled from 1871 (12,000 francs); this would support the theory that we are dealing with two different paintings by Gérôme depicting Prayers in a Mosque, the present Rüstem Pasha Mosque, and the later Wolfe painting. When seen together with the Vesoul oil sketch from the late 1860s (fig. 5) and the later variant of the present painting (which is documented in the Knoedler ledgers as having been sold on October 22, 1878 to James A. Raynor for $8800 (fig 6.), Rüstem Pasha Mosque stylistically would date circa 1870, and therefore correspond to the painting listed in the 1871 Goupil and Knoedler ledgers. The more recent history of this picture is more straightforward -- and equally revealing. The father of the late owner, Cornelius O'Brien, was in many ways typical of Gérôme's American clients. O'Brien was a banker, farmer, and manufacturer, and one of Indiana's earliest historic preservationists. The industrial and commercial booms of the nineteenth century, and a growing enthusiasm for the new technology of photography, generated a new group of art purchasers and patrons. Academic easel paintings, conservative in technique and fairly small in size, fit comfortably in their well-appointed living rooms, and effectively demonstrated their wealth, social position, and even, if the subjects were carefully chosen, their sound moral principles. Increasing opportunities for travel broadened the horizons and peaked the curiosity of these new collectors as well, leading to an unprecedented interest in Orientalist imagery in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scenes of prayer were particularly resonant, as they offered a familiar theme to American men and women, underneath their exotic guise. Such poignant images could even offer hope and comfort in these years of rapid change: At a time when science and rationalism were King, the idea of pure and unquestioned faith was doubtless reassuring. Indeed, in looking again at this exquisite work by Gérôme, it is easy to imagine that the artist felt something of this too: effacing his own presence and his own, painterly touch, he takes care not to intrude. υ1 This picture has been misleadingly known as The Blue Mosque since at least 1935. This has led to the assumption that it represents either the famous "Blue Mosque" of Sultan Ahmet, also located in Istanbul, or the Aqsunqur ("Blue") Mosque in Cairo, both of which Gérôme undoubtedly knew. υ2 The Virgin Mary in Islam ("Maryam" in Arabic) is the mother of Jesus ("Isa"), who is considered by Muslims to be one of the prophets of Islam. Of the Qur'an's 114 Suras, she is among only eight people to have a Sura named after them (Sura 19), and is the only woman specifically named. According to the Qur'an, Mary was assigned into the care of a priest, Zachariah, who was later blessed by God with John ("John the Baptist"). υ3υ Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, also built by Sinan, is perhaps the most famous, featuring many stained glass windows. υ4 Of this tendency, the author Edmond About penned: "Your example, my dear Gérôme, seduced me by reassuring me: no law prohibits a writer from traveling as a painter, which is to say from assembling in a purely imaginative subject a multitude of details taken from life and scrupulously true, though selected," (quoted by Jean-Marie Carré, Voyageurs et écrivains français en Egypte, Cairo, 1932, 2:26). υ5 Though this would seem to be a rather obvious point, many artists made similar "mistakes": Frederic Leighton's Portions of the Interior of the Grand Mosque of Damascus (1873-5, Harris Museum and Art Galery, Preston) is a particularly noteworthy example. υ6 Further testimony to Goupil's excellent PR services comes from an American observer at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867: "There was nothing from Gérôme that was unknown to Americans. The majority are known in photographic form, and several were lent by American owners," (quoted in Albert Boime, "Gérôme and the Bourgeois Artist's Burden," Arts Magazine 57, Jan 1983, 65).
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