On the Carpet: Quick Bite

Happy Friday! Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re stepping into Jean-Leon Gérôme’s, The Carpet Merchant (c1887) on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Rich in detail with vibrant colors, this gorgeous painting transports us to the Court of the Rug Market in Cairo.

The Carpet Merchant (c1887) by Jean-Leon Gérôme, Minneapolis Institute of Art

Zoom in and notice the various vignettes being played out. The carpet merchant showing off his wares to would-be buyers. The spectators gazing down from the balcony. The woman peeking out from the shadows. Gérôme’s use of color and meticulous attention to detail brings this painting to life. I can hear the bustle of the market, and muted conversations as a deal is being made. Each time I look at this painting I discover something new. What catches your eye?

Close-ups of The Carpet Merchant (c1887) by Jean-Leon Gérôme, Minneapolis Institute of Art

Artist Background:  Jean-Leon Gérôme (1824-1904) was born in Vesoul, France. An intelligent and talented student, Gérôme obtained his baccalaureate at age 16 and promptly moved to Paris to study with painter Paul Delaroche. His father, a goldsmith, was outraged and for several years cut off Gérôme’s allowance.

Left: Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860, age 36) by Etienne Neurdein, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Two Peasant Women and a Child (1849) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Musée d’Orsay, Wikimedia Commons

Gérôme, however, was having the time of his life in Paris. He worked hard at perfecting his craft, traveled to Italy to study classical art, and co-founded the Néo-Grecs, a fraternity of neoclassical artists in Paris. It was through his connections with Delaroche, Gérôme met several artists dabbling in photography and he was hooked.  

Dance of the Almeh (1863) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dayton Art Institute, Wikimedia Commons

With camera in hand, Gérôme embarked on his first trip to the Middle East and Northern Africa in 1856. He returned to Paris with a cache of photographs and used them to paint sensational scenes of his adventures. Gérôme’s paintings, however, are not historically accurate. Instead, they represent Western stereotypes about the culture and people from these lands. Gérôme made several trips back and in some cases, his paintings became more provocative and shocking. Belly dancers, severed heads, naked women in Turkish baths and slave markets were commonly featured in his work. His critics accused him of pushing the bounds of decency in order to reap more profit. Not all of Gérôme’s orientalist paintings are lurid, and The Carpet Merchant is one such example.

Arty Fact #1:  According to The Art Story, “Orientalism disseminated and reinforced a range of stereotypes associated with Eastern cultures most notably regarding a lack of ‘civilized’ behavior and perceived differences in morality, sexual practices, and character of the inhabitants.”

Left: Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt (example of polychromy; c1895) by Jean-Leon Gérôme, Musee d’Orsay, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Jean-Leon Gérôme, (c1892, age ~68) by Goupil, Wikimedia Commons

In 1863, Gérôme married Marie Goupil (1840-1912), the daughter of his longtime art dealer. A year later, the couple had their first of five children, and Gérôme began teaching at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Left: Portrait of Tanagra (1890) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Photo by Charles-Louis Michelez, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Working in Marble (self-portrait of Gérôme working on Tanagra sculpture; 1890) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dahesh Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons

In his 50s, Gérôme added sculpting to his résumé. Nicknamed the Father of Polychromy, Gérôme made an effort to bring back the classical style of painting sculpture. He continued to paint and sculpt for many decades. At the age of 80, he died suddenly and unexpectedly, while working in his studio. Gérôme left behind, 600 paintings, 60 sculptures, and 100+ drawings. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Jean-Léon Gérôme link, courtesy of WikiArt.

Arty Fact #2:  Jean-Léon Gérôme was a stickler on artistic technique and a staunch believer in the academic style of painting. Thus, the Impressionists (i.e., Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir to name a few) and their rebellious, free-form style made Gérôme apoplectic.

He went so far as to petition the French government to toss out 65 Impressionist works of art. Click on this Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines link to learn more about the Impressionists and the clever tactics they used to take on the persnickety academics at the École des Beaux-Arts.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet (1872)

That wraps up our look at Jean-Léon Gérôme and The Carpet Merchant. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Vedran Brnjetic, courtesy of Pixabay.


Britannica: Jean-Leon Gérôme

Brooklyn Museum: The Carpet Merchant of Cairo (1869) by Jean-Leon Gérôme

Minneapolis Institute of Art: The Carpet Merchant (c1887) by by Jean-Leon Gérôme

Musée d’Orsay: The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines


The Art Story: Jean-Leon Gérôme

The Art Story: Orientalism

WikiArt: Jean-Leon Gérôme

Wikimedia Commons: Jean-Leon Gérôme

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