Thursday, 5 September 2013

Big bucks, French style

How to make a buck or two!

The close relationship between art and commerce is probably as old as art itself

Even the great masters of the Renaissance could not function without patronage and patronage means money

Slave Market (1866)

One of the most visited postings on this blog explores the work of  Jean-Leon Gerome - a French academic painter working towards the end of the 19th Century. He died in Paris in 1904

Phryne devant l'Areopage (1861)
Gerome's huge commercial success was partly down to his subject matter - something I have discussed elsewhere in the blog 

To his 'classical' settings and subject matter he invariably added a somewhat prurient (or at least, erotic) element

Gerome 1890 
 While it was quite common for famous artists to be photographed in their studios, Gerome took this idea one step further:

Le travail du marble (1895)
He painted himself at work in his studio. This was not only a clever example of self-promotion but acted as a kind of early form of commercial advertising

Note the small painted figurine top right - we shall see that again later!

 Gerome - Pygmalion et Galatee (detail) 1890
The relationship between an artist and his model is often of an intimate nature - we see this time and time again in the work of Pablo Picasso, for example

The 'classical' excuse to display this relationship is the legend of Pygmalion and Galatee and this is the one Gerome uses - but he again goes one step further:-

La Fin de la Seance (1886)
This somewhat banal painting shows Gerome watching his live model covering up the clay statue he has been working on

It is little more than an excuse to show a pretty girl's backside - as Gerome's actual gaze would indicate!

Sortie du bal masque (1857-1859)
Apart from his ability to keep his own image before the public, Gerome took advantage of the rapid growth in the commercial distribution of art then available in Paris

The painting above was turned into a print and sold in its thousands

Sortie du bal masque - lithograph (1857-1867)

The above reproduction was distributed by Adolphe Goupil & Cie, a hugely successful art dealership who at one point had Vincent Van Gogh on its board of directors

They had offices in Paris, London (where Vincent's brother Theo later worked), The Hague, Berlin, Vienna, New York and even Australia

Goupil's daughter Marie married Jean-Leon Gerome, thereby making his commercial relationship with Goupil even closer

 Sculpturae vitam insufflat pictura (1893)
Remember that little coloured porcelain figure I pointed out to you earlier in this article? Well, it crops up again in the above remarkable painting by Gerome

This time that figurine appears in a representation of 'classical' mass-production from 'Roman' times!

Its an interesting painting but I doubt if Gerome could get more commercial than that

'Buy my figurines!' it screams

I wonder what the French Academy thought of that?! 
And what about Gerome?
Well, he probably laughed all the way to the bank!

Mike Healey

The images for the above article are taken from Gerome (1824-1904) Connaisance des Arts, published by Musee d'Orsay

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