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Jean Leon Gerome (French 1824-1904)

Le Mosquée bleue

signed--oil on canvas
28½ x 41in. (72.4 x 104.1cm.)
Boussod Valadon, Paris, 1878
With Knoedler's, New York, 1879
Well; sale, American Art Association, New York, November 12-13, 1936, no. 47
Eli Whitney Debevoise
With Galerie d'Orsay, Paris
G. M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, London, 1986, pp. 242-3, no. 268 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

Jean Léon Gérôme's trip to Constantinople in 1854 prompted a lifelong fascination with the Orient. The numerous sketches he did on this and subsequent trips were later re-worked in his Paris studio into highly finished compositions, noted for their impeccable draftsmanship and sensuous color. As a realist, Gérôme sought verisimilitude in every aspect of his paintings and left no detail overlooked. He filled his Paris studio with props which he used in combination with his preparatory sketches to re-create the events he had witnessed on his travels. Indeed, very early in his career Gérôme was known as an "ethnographic painter." In The Blue Mosque (1878) he records figures at different stages in the ritual of prayer, with each figure shown in distinct individual pose, clothing and body type. However, Gérôme has taken liberties within the context of enthnographic accuracy: for example, the figures are each at differing steps of the prayer, whereas in communal worship they would be following the same posture. Instead, he has unified the composition through the rhythmic relationships of their different positions. The strong bare legs of the Bashi-Bazouk to the left make us sense the bodies covered by the long cloaks of the other men, and also indicate the importance of the foot placement in the prayer ritual. Despite the sharpness of their silhouettes and the wealth of detail in their costumes, space is built around them by the clear volumes of the figures; and the formes are surrounded by the variegated blue of the mosque walls. The movement of light across the tiled walls further imbues the scene with an aura of holiness, which is underscored by the intensity and piety of their prayer, communicated by gesture rather than facial expression.


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