• Orientalist Masterpieces Inclu auction at Christies

    Sale 7823

    Orientalist Masterpieces Including an Important Private Collection

    25 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 9

    Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1850-1913)

    Dispute d'Arabes

    Price Realised  


    Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1850-1913)
    Dispute d'Arabes
    signed 'J.L.GEROME' (upper right)
    oil on panel
    12 x 9½ in. (30 x 24 cm.)
    Painted in 1871.

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    The small dimensions of this painting are unusual in Gérôme's Orientalist work, the artist not having worked on this scale since he executed a small series of Italian peasants in the mid-1850s. He did, however, sometimes include small, animated figures with legible facial expressions in larger works, such as the wonderful courtiers who mount the staircase of Cardinal Richelieu's palace in L'Eminence grise of 1875. Both this and the latter work show Gérôme's extraordinarily honed skill at rendering fine details: for despite their small size, his characters are fully worked up in posture and in costume, and have saliently expressive faces.

    Edward Strahan (pseudonym for Earl Shinn, 1837-1886) explained the agitated exchange taking place in the group. His version may be an improvisation based on what he knew of Gérôme's methods, or an explanation heard from Gérôme himself (Shinn was a former student of Gérôme's, before he became an art critic on the advice of his teacher, who saw that he had little talent). The man to the right has dismounted from a hired camel, and a dispute has ensued over the price of the ride. The driver is both indignant and adamant; in the middle, a friend or an intrusive bystander finds the price a moral matter and argues vehemently; and the dismounted passenger stands to the side somewhat embarrassed, dismayed by the transaction. The nonchalant expression of the splendidly painted camel provides a wonderful foil to the three arguing men.

    The camel was, like other animals, an object of serious study for Gérôme. Eight sheets of camel studies were on display earlier this year at an exhibition of Gérôme's drawings in the musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy. These were sketches from life, not quickly drawn, but rather studied and specific in the details of bones, muscles and stances. Furthermore, they were finished beyond the usual sketch and could guide Gérôme later when he wanted to paint a camel at home in his studio, which was fairly often. The beasts are seen in various postures, standing, sitting, stretching out a neck in curiosity, lowering their heads to graze. There are separate studies of leg joints; hooves from all sides; heads from all angles; mouths open and closed and chewing: all evidence of Gérôme's drive to "get it right." One doesn't know if they were done while on the spot in the Near or Middle East, or from animals in a zoo. One page includes the sketch used for this beast (fig. 1): a fine drawing with the careful hatching of Gérôme's early drawing style; later, the shadows would become more abstract with just a thick wavy line or a smudge to indicate a value change or a shadow.

    These various elements (the camel, the three arguing men, and the architectural background) are successfully put together in a gentle and unified composition. The differentiation of the characters of the three figures is shown by the manner each participates in the argument; and the transitory nature of their upset contrasts with the serene, untroubled street opening behind them -- a background which imparts humour to the scene and perhaps too a moral lesson.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Acquired directly from the artist by Goupil & Cie., Paris, 1871.
    Earl of Dunmore, his sale; Christie's, London, 14 March 1874, lot 135 (1050 gns. to Wallis).
    F. W. Armytage, his sale; Christie's, 22 May 1897, lot 106 (420 gns. to Wallis).
    The Sordoni Family Collection, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, circa 1960-70.
    Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 23 October 1990, lot 44.
    Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 21 November 1996, lot 260.
    Anonymous sale; Tajan, Paris, 11 May 2005, lot 247.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    E. Shinn-Strahan, ed., Gérôme: A Collection of the Works of J. L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, New York, 1881-1883.
    F. F. Hering, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 215.
    H. Mireur, Dictionnaire des Ventes d'Art faites en France et l'Etranger pendant les XVIIIme & XIXme Siècles, Paris, 1911, p. 296.
    G. M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, London, 1986, pp. 232-3, no. 221 (illustrated p. 100).
    G. M. Ackerman, La vie et l'oeuvre de Jean-Léon Gérôme, 2nd ed., Paris, 2000, p. 280, no. 221 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Gérôme & Goupil Art and Enterprise, Paris, 2000, p. 161.


    Dayton, Ohio, Dayton Art Institute; Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Baltimore, Maryland, The Walters Art Gallery, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), 10 November 1972 - 20 May 1973, p. 67, no. 23 (illustrated).