Victoire au Peplum (Victory wearing a Peplum)
Inscribed SiOT. Fondeur. Paris.
Bronze with a dark and lighter brown patination, with lighter brown and golden highlights
Height: 38'' (96.7 cm)
Conceived and cast in 1897
Jean-Léon Gérôme was one of the most influential French artists of the nineteenth-century, being particularly renowned for his Orientalist paintings depicting dream-like exotic subjects. Born in 1824 in Vesoul, the artist studied drawing in his hometown before moving to Paris, working as an apprentice in Paul Delaroche’s studio. Delaroche was Gérôme’s most influential teacher and was responsible for introducing the young artist to the art of Europe, travelling with him to Italy in 1843-1844.
Indeed, Gérôme engaged with and studied extensively the cultures of Europe, North Africa and Turkey throughout his career. During the artist’s travels, the encounter with the art and ruins of the ancient world left an indelible mark in his mind, later influencing his language and the development of his oeuvre.
The artist’s painting Two Cockerels Fighting marked his debut at the 1847 Salon and earned him a third-class medal. Fifteen years later, the artist was appointed professor of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, winning a gold medal at the 1874 International Exhibition. Having dedicated much of his career to painting, from the 1870s onwards Gérôme devoted himself to sculpture. The impressive model Two Gladiators (1878) was the first three-dimensional work exhibited by the artist at the Salon. He was already 54 years old.
Unlike many other artists, who tended to re-use successful models in order to please the public towards the end of their career, Gérôme never stopped innovating his sculptural style. Two of his most accomplished sculptures, Tanagra (1890) and Corinth (1904), date to the last fourteen years of his career – the latter being an unfinished piece found in the artist’s studio after his death.
Gerome, Tanagra, 1890
Gerome, Corinth, ca 1904
The present work, Victoire au Peplum (Victory wearing a Peplum) dates to 1897 and relates to a later phase of the artist’s oeuvre. The piece testifies to Gérôme’s continuous debt to the work of the ancient civilisations. The figure’s wings, her peplum (or peplos) gown and sandals echo the iconography of Victory in Greek statuary. Likewise, the laurel was a plant the Greeks often associated with athletic prowess and military celebrations, featuring prominently in the present composition.
Despite his debt to the ancients, Gérôme’s depiction of Victory is not formulaic – a subtle, overarching tension feeds into the sculpture’s rigid composition. Gérôme achieves such tension by paying painstaking attention to the modelling of the work, from the wings, to the laurel branches, rippling skirt and realistic sandals on the figure’s feet. This is also evident if one looks at the sculpture’s base, where the artist delicately modelled fallen laurel leaves, are scattered around Victory’s feet.
Victoire was exhibited at the Salon in Paris two years after its conception date, in 1899. In the same year, Gérôme devised another version of the sculpture, titled Victoire Marchante (Marching Victory). Of the two, the present version was the most popular with the collectors’ market and in 1910 the Siot foundry listed the piece in three different sizes: the present 98cm version, a 41cm model and a further 24cm reduction. Only one example of the larger model is accounted for by Gerald M. Ackerman in his catalogue raisonné (1986); while another cast is currently part of the Lightner Museum collection in St. Augustine (Florida); another piece sold at Sotheby’s in 2015. This makes the present bronze the rarest of the three models, one of a small edition made by the artist during his lifetime.