Jean-Léon Gérôme was born in 1824 in Vesoul and studied there until he was 16 years old when he left his family for Paris to follow the teachings of Paul Delaroche and later Charles Gleyre. He resisted the new movement of Impressionism and continued to develop the French Neo-classical style, later championing that genre. At the height of his career, after having won many gold medals and other prestigious awards, Gérôme became the President of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and was honored as a knight in the Légion d'honneur.
Although Gérôme continued to paint until his death, from 1878 onward, he focused his energies on sculpture. Most often the subjects of his sculpture were inspired by his paintings, as in the present lot. La joueuse de boules, often referred to as Danseuse au trois masques was exhibited at the Salon in 1902. It shows a nude playing a game in the antique tradition, but of Gérôme's invention, where balls must be dropped into the open mouths of the masks below, without the player moving her feet. The Siot-Decauville foundry cast bronze versions in three different sizes, the present lot being an example of the largest size offered.