Born at Vesoul in 1824, Jean Leon Gerome (d.1904) came to Paris in 1841, and entered the studio of Paul Delaroche the following year. He made his debut at the Salon in 1847, winning a third class medal for the painting 'Cockfighting'. Gerome became a member of the Institut in 1863 and a Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur in 1878. He began sculpting relatively late in his career, exhibiting sculpture for the first time at the age of forty-four, but was quick to gain success with his new endeavor. Gerome often painted his sculptures or further embellished them with ivory, marble or semi-precious stones.
The present depiction of the young Bonaparte making his 1798 entry into Cairo was the first in a series of historical equestrian figures Gerome produced during the late 1890's, including Washington, Frederick the Great, Caesar, and Tamerlane. First presented at the Salon of 1897 (no. 2987), the 53 cm. high model was enthusiastically received by the public, a testament not only to the artist's skill, but also to the renewed status of Bonaparte among the French bourgeoisie. The model was subsequently purchased by the State for the Galerie du Luxembourg for 10,000 francs, despite the government's standard prohibition against works made in multiples. At the time of the purchase Gerome had already contracted with the Parisian fondeurs Siot-Decauville to produce the group in two sizes, the present lot being an example of the smaller.
Another example of this group cast by Siot sold Christie's New York, 22 May 1997, lot 113 ($43,700).