This Gérôme work from 1882 astounds for it's technical brilliance. The center is an anecdote: a young Arnaut (an Albanian soldier in the Ottoman army) sits with his wolfhound on a divan in a tiled niche. The Arnaut has drawn from the hookah, and playfully blows a stream of smoke at the greyhound's nose. Although this may at first seem--with modern attitudes towards smoking--to convey cruelty, it is clearly meant as an affectionate tease. The hound is attentive to his master, faces him, and the Arnaut carefully looks at him, the arch of his shoulders leaning towards the animal, again affectionately, the smoke binding them together as much as if they were touching. One side of the triangle they form is amusingly outlined by the stream of smoke. The incident is further characterized by the expressions on their faces: the man's puffed up cheeks, the puzzled apprehension of the dog as the smoke tickles his nose. But neither gesture is exaggerated or unsupported enough for the anecdote to overshadow their mutual affection.
Gérôme himself was fond of dogs--the greyhound was probably one of his pets, for it appears in several pictures from this period. The Arnaut wears a favorite piece from Gérôme's costume collection: the pleated Arnaut skirt, which the painter never failed to see freshly, with different modulations of light and shadow in its mutitudinous folds. Surrounding the man and his dog are innumerable samples of Gérôme's ability and joy in painting. A great tile dado covers the niche behind the soldier, each tile reflecting in turn differing highlights and color values. The pillows of the divan upon which the pair sits are covered with a decorated fabric whose intricacies of pattern enticed rather than frightened the painter as they emerge from the shadow into full light. And to the right, on the floor, a small table with a border inset with mother of pearl decoration gives another example of the painter's mastery over light.
The provenance of this painting is impressive and is a testimony to the collecting habits of America's most important citizens in the late 19th century. It originally belonged to Thomas Jefferson Coolidge while America's Minister to France in the 1890s. Coolidge acquired most of the paintings in his collection in Paris while he was Minister, however earlier records indicate that this painting was handled by Knoedler in 1892. The painting has remained in the same Massachusetts family for four generations.
An Arnaut jouant avec un lévrier was sold for FF 2600, according to L'Art Francais of 14 February 1890, at a charity auction for the painter Benedict Masson. Both the small price and the fact that it was contributed to a charity auction lead to the conclusion that if it were the same subject as the painting offered, it was a smaller version, and probably the preparatory oil sketch.
We are grateful to Professor Gerald M. Ackermann for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.