Although not as widely documented as his paintings, Gérôme consistently produced a wide and interesting array of graphic work. The present drawing is executed with a high degree of detail especially notable in the folds of the turban and the facial features which render such an expressive glance.
The model sits in his wicker chair, somewhat discomfited, perhaps by the chair, or the heavy clothing, or by something that perturbs him. This internal drama differs the pose from most of Gérômes depictions of standing and seated Middle Easterners, who usually confront you with an air of great, even insolent, independence. It links our model with Gérômes painting of the seated Marcus Botsaris, of 1874. Botsaris was a Greek hero in the Greek Wars of Independence, bored and unhappy with inaction and formal dress. Our man shares this sense of conflict, of light drama with the Marcus Botsaris. Could he be a Greek or a Turk seated in a Wicker Chair?
Gérôme's drawing is especially strong in the upper body with the shoulders and chest firmly described under the garment. The long apron is less detailed; if Gérôme had made this drawing for a painting, he would have painted the details of the apron or dress from life (perhaps on a lay model). But when working from his model, it was the pose, the overall gesture of the upper body that interested him, and which he so wonderfully captures here.
However, no painting can be firmly linked to this drawing. It fits in, however, with a series of paintings by Gérôme from the 1880s of seated Arabs and Arnautes who are sitting or lounging on chairs, benches, stools and even curbstones. These were pictures he could paint at home in his Paris studio, using his favorite well-trained models dressed in garments from his large collection of Eastern costumes, the booty of his many expeditions to Egypt, Palestine and Turkey. He could concentrate on his models, undistracted by the peripheral activity of a genre piece. Gérôme enjoyed the handsome boniness of the Arabs, their independence, and it also indulged his interest in costumes and his skill in painting them.
We are greteful to Gerald Ackerman for his assistance in preparing this catalogue note.
(fig. 1) J.L. Gerome, Markos Botsaris, 1874, Private Collection.