- Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Allegory of Night
- signed J.L. GEROME and dated 1859 (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- diameter: 89 3/4 in.
- 228 cm
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a catalogue raisonné, London, 1986, no. 51, p.194 (as Three Angels), illustrated opp p. 194 (with variations)
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 226, no. 51 (as Plafond d'enfants), illustrated p. 227 (with variations)
While the stylistic connection of the present work to A Soul is apparent, other paintings of allegorical subjects also lend themselves to ready comparison. Night (circa 1850-55, Musée d’Orsay, fig. 1), features a torch bearing figure soaring through a star-blazoned sky at dusk, her midnight blue cloak fluttering around her and arm raised to drop brilliant red poppies to cast the spell of sleep on those below, a subject so clearly connected to Allegory of Night. The Musée d'Orsay suggests that this work was possibly exhibited as Phoebe in Vesoul in 1897, and that it once hung on the bedroom ceiling of the actor Jules François Got, who was a friend to Gérôme and his travelling companion to Turkey in 1853. Also in Got’s home was a series of four panels depicting the seasons by different artists (Gérôme painted Summer, 1850, Cleveland Museum of Art) and the theme of Night was perhaps a compliment to the decor.
The recent re-discovery of Allegory of Night reveals that it is dated 1859, six years after the commission for L’Eglise de Frotey-les-Vesoul, opening up new possibilities and connections to projects painted during an extremely productive period for Gérôme. In an 1858 article for L’Artiste, Theophile Gautier recounts a visit to Gérôme’s studio and describes, in great detail, a number of panels to decorate the railway carriage of Pope Pius IV – certainly a unique commission that married the spirit of progress and modernity with the religious spirit of antiquity (Ackerman, nos. 87-107, pp. 202-5). One of the panels made for the ceiling of the rail car, God the Father supported by Putti (fig. 2), relates stylistically to the present work. He also lists a number of paintings in various states of completion seen in Gérôme’s studio at that time, including Dead Caesar (1859, location unknown), Ave Caesar Morituri to salutant (1859, Yale University), King Candules (1859, Museo de Arte, Ponce), the first sketch for Phyrné and, finally, he briefly describes an important commission of works to decorate a sumptuous new palace at 18 Avenue Montaigne. Built for Prince Napoléon and designed by the architect Alfred Normand, who had just returned from five years in Rome, the home was dubbed the Maison Pompéienne and featured a grand library, Turkish-style bath, portico, glass skylights, a collection of Egyptian artifacts and paintings commissioned from Jean-Léon Gérôme and other artists, inspired by antiquity and the Iliad. Gautier describes three panels in detail, but Ackerman lists another work from the home as “two allegorical figures” (Ackerman, 2000, no. 86.5) – one could speculate that Allegory of Night was an element of the Maison Pompéienne commission, perhaps a ceiling decoration comparable to Night that Gérôme had painted for his friend. The home was inaugurated in 1860, but by 1865 the Prince sold it to a group of investors and it was eventually torn down in either 1891 or 1892, with many of its contents scattered and lost.