Young Napoleon Entering Cairo
Signed J.L. Gerome Siot Fondeur Paris and numbered 10
Bronze with gilt and polychrome patination
Height 16“ (41 cm)
Conceived in 1897 and cast before 1904 when the right to cast the work were bought by the Barbedienne foundry .
Provenance: Connoisseur Gallery, London; Ely Calil Collection, London acquired from the above in 1996
Jean-Léon Gérôme was one of the most influential French artists of the 19th century, particularly renowned for his Orientalist paintings depicting dream-like exotic subjects.
The son of a goldsmith, Gerome was born in Vesoul on May 11, 1824. He initially studied with a local drawing master, before moving to Paris to study with the painter, Paul Delaroche.
Gérôme travelled with Delaroche to Rome, where he absorbed the romantic and dramatic lifestyle of the Ancient Romans, which would later inspire his exotic subject matter. Gérôme returned to Paris in 1847 to make his artistic debut at the Salon, exhibiting a painting of two cockerels fighting. The impressive debut won him a third-class medal and resulted in the painting being purchased by the State.
Gérôme travelled extensively throughout Europe, regularly sending his paintings back to the Salon for exhibitions. This love of travel and natural tendency toward exploration eventually led Gérôme to North Africa and Egypt with his close friend and sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. This visit provided him rich cultural inspiration for many more works, which had by now taken on a strong Orientalist theme.
In 1863, Gérôme was appointed professor of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In that same year he married the daughter of the prominent Parisian art dealer and publisher, Jean Goupil. In 1874, Gérôme crowned an already successful career with the gold medal at the International Exhibition and was named an Officer of the Legion of Honour.
It wasn’t until the mature age of 50 that Gérôme devoted any significant amount of time to sculpture. The first work he exhibited at the Salon was Two Gladiators in 1878, which depicted a gladiator demanding the decision of life or death over his fallen opponent. It was a subject he had portrayed several times in a series of Roman arena pictures. Gérôme gave a bronze cast of this dramatic model to the Nys Glyptotek in 1885.
His paintings also inspired other great sculptors of his day, including Cleopatra and Apollodorus by Dumaige after 1866 and Phryne by Joseph Falguière. Jean Goupil commissioned Falguiere to sculpt the beautiful subject of his son-in-law’s painting in 1868. The famous Tanagra, which was exhibited at the Salon in 1890, is considered one of Gérôme’s most important sculptures. Filled with mystery and symbolism, the work was produced in many variant materials.
Unlike many other artists, who tended to reuse successful models to please the public at the end of their careers, 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.
The experimental Gérôme would often combine ivory, marble and gilt, silvered or patinated bronze. Gérôme's last and – for many collectors – greatest work, Corinth, was found in the sculptor's studio after his death in 1904 in finished plaster form and as an unfinished marble. Siot Decauville cast the work in a small edition, supervised by the famous glassmaker and Gérôme’s assistant at the time, Decorchement.
The original version of Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback, measuring 83 centimetres in height, was exhibited at the Salon in 1897. The Galerie du Luxembourg bought it for the State, and the Siot foundry subsequently marketed the model in two reduction sizes measuring 53 and 41 centimetres in height.
Considered by many to be among the finest examples of 19th-century equestrian groups, the two pieces were singled out by contemporary critics for many reasons.
Firstly, the well-observed posture and likeness of the subjects lend each a sense of historical drama and character. The sculpture portrays Napoleon, aged 29, riding victorious into Cairo in 1798, after the Battle of the Pyramids. His lean face may represent his youth, but also depicts his suffering of starvation along the arduous journey to Egypt, due to his supply lines being harassed by the Bedouins and of course the extraordinary conditions.
The costume, accoutrements and accessories have also been finished with quite exquisite and exacting detail by the Siot foundry. Finally, the unique application of gilding to the bronze, combined with Gérôme’s enthusiasm for colouration, adds a true sense of grandiose to each model. Each cast displays the exquisite detailing of the Siot foundry – the finest chiselling that was equalled by few foundries of the time.
This particular piece is an example of the smaller 41cm high cast and is exceptional in that it still retains much of its original colouring of the leaves on the base and tinting of the decorations on the horse. Gérôme’s use of colour to enhance his sculptures was ground-breaking at the time and demonstrates his prowess with experimentation.
Musee d’Orsay, Paris - Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback,Gilt bronze, 83cm high, signed, stamped Siot
Musee Chateauroux - Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback,Gilt bronze, 55.5cm high, signed and stamped Siot
Vesoul, Musee Garret – Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback, Gilt bronze, 41cm high, signed and stamped Siot. Frederick The Great, patinated plaster, 81cm high, signed.
Harding Museum, Chicago - Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback, Gilt bronze, 41cm high, signed and stamped Siot
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean Leon Gerome, ACR Edition, Paris, 1986, Napoleon Entering Cairo on Horseback, illustrated. Pp. 322-323; Frederick The Greatillustrated. P. 325
James Thompson & David H. T. Scott, The East: Imagined, Experience, Remembered: Orientalist Nineteenth Century Painting, illustrated Edition, National Gallery of Ireland, 1988. P. 89
Jean-Loup Champion & Charles Janoray, A Golden Age of French Sculpture 1850-1900: Exhibition, May 5-May 30, 2003,Charles Janoray LLC, 2003. P. 38
P. Fusco & H. W. Janson, The Romantics to Rodin, Los Angeles County Museum, N.Y., 1980. P.285-292