Characterised by Professor Gerald Ackerman as "...the most beautifully composed and painted of Gérôme's landscapes" (G. M. Ackerman, Jean-Lón Gérôme, London, 1986, p. 258), The First Kiss of the Sun shows the pyramids of Giza suffused in the golden morning light of the desert sun. This view is from the west, as the rising sun illuminates the summit of each pyramid while the ethereal appearance of the distant pyramids contrasts dramatically with the clearly detailed foreground. The Sphinx, just visible in the middle background, adopts an ethereal quality, bathed in the haze created by the sand and sunlight.
Indeed, Robert Isaacson, who owned this painting for over thirty years, believed that the strip of clear blue along the top of the picture represented Gérôme's memory of natural phenomenon. Driving to the Cairo airport at dawn, Isaacson saw how the sun struck the particles of sand in the air, forming a distant horizontal division in the sky.
The First Kiss of the Sun is one of Gérôme's most accomplished landscapes. It was exhibited at the Salon of 1886, the year in which it was painted, six years after the artist's final visit to the Orient. Throughout his lifetime of travel, Gérôme made frequent drawings, which provided an extensive repertoire of stock images for the paintings he executed in his Paris studio. The critic Théophile Gautier, an early champion of Gérôme's work, visited Gérôme in Paris shortly after he had returned from his first Egyptian trip. Gautier described how the artist made on-site pencil sketches, which were to inspire his work, loaded with abundant visual information. "We should never finish were we to describe the infinite number of details gathered together on these loose sheets: great undulations of ground; masses of doum-palms; saqqhyehs (water wheels);...pots; cafis; okkels; camping grounds, corner of pyramids..." (G. M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, London, 1986, p. 45). An oil study of the pyramids and a a few of the palms in The First Kiss of the Sun was sold at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet, New York in 1978.