Sortie du bal masqué
inscribed and signed 'A son Excellence Aly Pacha/J. L. Gerome.' (lower left)
oil on panel
9 1/8 x 13 in. (23.3 x 33 cm.)
The artist.
Mehmed Emin Âli Pasha (1815-1871), acquired directly from the above.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 27 November 1987, lot 29, as Duel after the ball.
Donald M. Munson (b. 1932), London.
His estate sale; Christie's, London, 4 May 1995, lot 104.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
G. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, pp. 234-235, no. 76.3, illustrated, as Sortie du bal masqué, réduction.
Los Angeles, The Getty Center, The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme, 12 June-15 September 2010; also Paris, Musée d'Orsay, 19 October 2010-23 January 2011; and Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1 March-22 May 2011, p. 118, no. 52, as Duel After the Ball.

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Lot Essay

Known through a number of autograph replicas and innumerable photo and print reproductions, Sortie du bal masqué was and remains one of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s most popular and recognizable compositions. Inspired by a real-life event which was notorious in Paris in the mid-1850s, Gérôme’s depiction of the aftermath of a duel in the Bois de Boulogne is a brilliant example of the human pathos, theatricality, and compositional innovation the artist is best remembered for today. The present version is one for four oils depicting the subject, the other three of which are found today in museum collections (the Musée Condé in Chantilly, The Walters Art Museum, and the Hermitage). The Getty version is of extraordinary quality and vitality and illustrates Gérôme’s technical skill even in preparatory stages.
Professor Gerald Ackerman has identified this work as an oil sketch created by Gérôme as he was initially working out the composition. Of this version, Ackerman said, ‘The main group is painted with a liveliness in every face and gesture, with a resilience in the sagging body of Pierrot that is remarkable and only slightly equaled in the Chantilly version. The clarity in the grouping around Pierrot, although sketchily painted and actually 'unfinished', is masterful.’ Indeed, the central figure group is not as highly finished as is found in the larger versions of the composition and much of the remainder of the composition is left in a relatively sketchy state of finish. Even the feathers which have fallen from the headdress of the figure dressed as a Native American, so well-defined in other versions, are suggested only with single strokes of color on the ground at right. The brushwork and tone of the ébauche finish of the background further add to the enclosed atmosphere of a snowy night in a wood. The only reason to suggest that this work might not be preparatory is that an early description of the Chantilly version mentions a background figure of 'a coachman throwing up his hands in horror' (London, Athenaeum, January 1858). It was painted out, but the pentimento can still be seen in the Chantilly version. If this figure were part of the original composition, one would expect to find a pentimento of the coachman somewhere in this sketch as well.
In Sortie du bal masque Gérôme returned to a pictorial arrangement he had used to great effect in other celebrated paintings – juxtaposing a dead or dying figure in the foreground with those who had committed the act departing the scene. This arrangement was inspired by Delaroche’s L’assassinat du duc de Guise au château de Blois en 1588, and Gérôme expanded on the idea in several major works from this same period, including La Mort de César, rusalem, and L'exécution du maréchal Ney. It was one that would create a particularly striking effect in this painting. Thomas Couture, who had begun his own depiction of the same subject (he claimed) before Gérôme had started his, was upset by the success of Gérôme’s take on the infamous duel as compared to his own. Couture’s painting, which instead depicts the combatants readying their weapons, has none of the dramatic tension and implied action of Gérôme’s composition.
The duel here depicted took place in the winter of 1856-1857 between a former police commissioner named Symphorien Casimir Boittelle and an elected official named Deluns-Montaud (possibly Delus-Montaud) following a masked ball that both had attended (C. O. Parsons, ‘The Wintry Duel: A Victorian Import.’ Victorian Studies, vol. 2, no. 4, 1959, p. 317). The duel became notorious not only because of the identities of the combatants, but because they remained in the commedia dell'arte costumes they had worn to the ball, with Boittelle dressed as the naïve and unfortunate Pierrot and Deluns-Montaud dressed as his rival Harlequin. In spite of his injuries as depicted by Gérôme, Boittelle in fact survived the incident and went to on to serve as a senator. He ultimately died in 1897, and is buried at Père Lachaise.
What is most notable in Gérôme’s composition is its theatricality, another commonly used trope in the artist’s oeuvre. The trees behind the figures create a pseudo-proscenium, defining the snowy ‘stage’ of the foreground on which the figures act out their tragedy. Though it is a dark and cloudy night with no hint of moonlight, the figures and foreground are lit as though from lights along the edge of a stage. Indeed when a caricature of this work was published with others exhibited in the Salon of 1857 it depicted the figures as puppets in a puppet theater, with the curtains pulled aside. The progression within the reactions of the figures holding up the limp body of Pierrot adds to the theatricality as well. Their expressions – of concern, horror, and frantic examination to see if their compatriot is still alive – mirror the progression of the viewer’s own emotions upon viewing the scene and connecting its narrative threads.
The person to whom this work is inscribed is Mehmed Emin Âli Pasha (1815-1871), a Turkish statesman, a member of the Tanzimat reformers, and often an ambassador. As Minister of the Exterior, he was the Plenipotentiary of the Turkish delegation at the Congress of Paris in 1856. Gérôme may have sold this work to the important statesman before the success of the first version at the Salon in 1857 or perhaps on a later visit of Âli Pasha to Paris. It was a common practice for Gérôme to make a small preparatory oil sketch for his compositions. When he was finished, he often finished one figure or the other, leaving the rest in a sketchy stage, and inscribed it to a friend, or sometimes to a client. Emily Weeks has noted that the nature of Gérôme's inscriptions gives us insight into both how a work came into an owner’s possession and the artist’s own view of the work’s importance. For gifts or preparatory sketches and very early works Gérôme would use lower case letters in his inscription as they carried a more informal and intimate connotation. As with the present work, the artist would use upper case letters in his inscriptions on formal, mature and ‘finished’ works which were sold more often than gifted.
A letter of authentication from Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D. dated 17 June 2022 accompanies this painting, and the work will be included in her revision to the Jean-Léon Gérôme catalogue raisonné, currently in preparation. We are grateful to Dr. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work.

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