Gérôme presented his marble version of Tanagra—painted with warm flesh tones, brown hair, pink lips and blue eyes—at the Paris Salon of 1890, during the peak of these ancient figurines’ popularity. In combining the mediums of painting and sculpture, he created a new and unique kind of realism. This sculpture proved among the most popular of his career, spawning at least four recorded reductions in varying materials and finishes, including the present work, cast by Siot-Decauville.
In his Tanagra sculpture, Gérôme situates the Tyche, or spirit of the ancient city, atop an excavation mound. Numerous figurines have surfaced in the soil. At her feet lie the tools that allude to both the archaeological dig as well as Gérôme's role as sculptor. In her upturned hand, she presents a Hoop Dancer, a sculpture of Gérôme's own creation inspired by the painted Hellenistic figures and distributed in two sizes by Goupil beginning in 1891. In Sculpturæ vitam insufflat pictura, also known as Painting Breathes Life Into Scultpure (1893, Art Gallery of Ontario, fig. 1) Gérôme imagines a young girl in a studio in Tanagra painting casts of the Hoop Dancer and on the window ledge, against the wall, appears a polychromed Tanagra sculpture, anachronisms that suggests the works had existed in antiquity.
When discussing the Tanagra figures in 1899, the Classical scholar, Théodore Reinach, commented that, “Always elegant but never affected, always in motion but never in a hurry, the Tanagra lady is truly the Parisienne of antiquity” (as quoted in Reynold Alleyne Higgins, Tanagra and the Figurines, London, 1987, p. 176-7). Fittingly, in this successful and highly regarded Tanagra sculpture, Gérôme combines the notion of the antique with a contemporary aesthetic. In fact, the figure presented to the viewer is likely that of one of his models, named Emma, who can be seen in The Artist's Model (1895, Dahesh Museum of Art, New York, fig. 2), seated beside the marble as the sculptor works.
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