Un bain maure, ébauche
signed 'J. L. Gérome' (lower right)
oil on canvas
27 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (70.5 x 54 cm.)
Painted circa 1870s
Anonymous sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 25 March 1977, lot 68, as Bain mauresque.
with Galleries Maurice Sternberg, Chicago, by May 1977.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 15 June 1979, lot 57, as The Moorish Bath.
Donald M. Munson (b. 1932), London.
His estate sale; Christie's, London, 4 May 1995, lot 29, as Un Bain Maure (Femme turque au Bain).
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
Apollo Magazine, vol. 105, London, May 1977, p. 77, illustrated, as Bain mauresque.
G. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 1986, pp. 96, 236-237, no. 240 B1, illustrated, as Moorish Bath.
G. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, pp. 286-287, no. 240.3, illustrated, as Un bain maure, ébauche.

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Lot Essay

During in the 1870s, Gérôme became fascinated with scenes depicting bathing women, inspired by motifs developed by the first generation of Orientalist painters, particularly Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The present work is one of at least four known studies, in both pencil and oil, for the finished composition, also titled Le bain maure. The studies attest to the careful attention Gérôme devoted to working out the complex twisted pose of his model in his final composition, as the artist worked up the nude figure to a high degree of finish in most of his oil studies. Far from sexualizing his model, Gérôme’s interest, typical of the painter/sculptor, lies in capturing the structure and form of the human body, so carefully examined and delineated here.
Gérôme painted numerous bathing scenes during this period that illustrate both real and imagined interiors throughout Turkey, mainly baths of Constantinople and Bursa. Images of these private spaces were available to him through the photographs of the Abdullah Fréres firm but also through his own personal experiences at such baths during his travels, where he would not only take in the atmosphere of such locales but also make as many sketches as possible to refer to in future compositions. Gérôme notes one experience at a bath in Bursa: 'As the temperature was extremely high, I did not hesitate to make myself... completely naked; seated on my campstool, my color box on my knees, my palette in my hand, I was a little grotesque' (Ackerman, op. cit., 1986, p. 110). Naturally, Gérôme would only have been allowed to bathe during the dedicated hours for men, but his in situ sketches provided him with backdrops and an understanding of the atmosphere for his compositions. The women depicted in his finished paintings were all models posing for Gérôme in his Paris studio following his return from his travels.
The present work is a beautiful example of Gérôme’s own preparatory practice and the construction of any academic painting more generally. As Gérôme taught his students at the Académie, the construction of the painting followed a series of predetermined stages. The base layer of the painting would have been pencil underdrawing on the prepared canvas, still visible here in the attendant’s hands, followed by blocking in the main compositional elements over the underdrawing with oil paint. On top of that, the first few thinly applied layers of glazes define the ébauche stage of the artist’s process, as is seen in the background and attendant figure in the present work. As the artist continued to apply thin layers of glazes over one another in the more highly-worked nude figure, the result is the smooth, marble-like finish free of visible brushwork which defines a completed academic painting.
Gérôme sets his bather in the present painting in a private bath rather than a public one. She seems to have finished most of the stages of her bath, and her attendant is readying the final step in the process, a palm oil scrub. Gérôme’s studies illustrate the artist trying several different positions for the nude figure’s head, neck, and shoulders, ultimately settling not on the slightly upturned gaze the model demonstrates here, but rather on one where her chin and face angle downward toward the basin. The beautiful streams of dappled light which plays across the back and face of the model as well as the wall and floor next to her are a recurring motif in Gérôme’s paintings of baths, and suggest the artist’s firsthand understanding of the steamy atmosphere as well as his desire to demonstrate his skill at depicting complex light effects on the female form.
A letter of authentication from Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D. dated 22 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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