Nu Se Dévoilant (Nude Unveiling)
Height: 37" (94 cm)
Conceived and carved circa 1900
One of three marble versions of this work inventoried in Gerome's Atelier in 1904.
Three white marble figures are listed in the inventory of Gérôme’s atelier from January 25, 1904 and it is thought that the present marble is one of these (Inventair apres le dicis de Monsieur Gérôme. M. Boullaire, Notaire, Paris, quai Voltaire 5, p 50, item 382).
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 the Mediterranean, travelling with him to Italy in 1843-1844.
Indeed, Gérôme studied and engaged extensively with 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. 15 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.
J.L. Gérôme, Tanagra, 1890, marble
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 14 years of his career – the latter being an unfinished piece found in the artist’s studio after his death.
J.L. Gérôme, Corinth, ca 1904, polychrome bronze
The present work is a rare version of Gérôme’s model Nude Unveiling. It is believed to have been one of the three marbles inventoried in Gérôme’s atelier in 1904, two years after the death of the artist, by the notary M. Bouillare of the Quai Voltaire. This notion may suggest a late dating of the piece in the artist’s career, who worked on this marble shortly before his death. Another version of this model in marble exists, currently part of a private collection.
J.L. Gérôme, Le Roi Candaules (King Candaules), ca 1904, polychrome bronze, Museo de Arte, Ponce
Despite the supposedly late dating of the work, the sculpture’s composition was likely inspired by a work dating to 1859, the canvas of Le roi Candaules. In the painting, the ancient Lydian king Candaules is seducted by his wife, while his lieutenant Gyges awaits in the doorway for the right moment to enter the room and stab him to death. The story was recounted in the Histories of Herodotus, and represented a great source of inspiration for numerous western artists.
Gérôme was clearly pleased with the result of his painted composition, and particularly with the figure of the queen Rodolphe, of which two studies survive (now in the Musée Garret, Vesoul, and in a private American collection respectively). The artist likely decided to re-invent his model, producing a marble version of it.
Nude Unveiling seems to develop the composition of the female figure in the painting, extending the position of the right arm and changing that of the sheet, which leaves her face and torso uncovered, favouring thus a frontal view of the sculpture. The result is a sensual work, which is not tied to a specific iconographic programme, allowing the viewer to focus on the artist’s masterful carving of the marble.
G.M. Ackermann, La vie et l’oeuvre de J.L. Gérôme, 1980, p. 333