Lot 4
  • 4

Jean-Léon Gérôme

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Le Combat de Coqs
  • signed J.L. GEROME (in red, lower left) 
  • oil on canvas
  • 15 1/2 by 21 3/4 in
  • 39.5 by 55.2 cm


Georges Petit, Paris
Goupil, Paris (acquired from the above, February 17, 1865, no. 1529)
Le Comte Karoly, Vienna (acquired from the above, October 1866)
Le Comte d'Aguile, Spain (and sold, his sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, February 21-22, 1868, lot 16)
Kaëser, Vienna

Goupil, Paris (acquired from the above, May 25, 1869, no. 4209, with frame)

Tuckerman(n), possibly New York, Cape Ann, Massachusetts, or Newport, Rhode Island (acquired from the above, October 21, 1869, and possibly loaned to Messrs. Williams and Everett, Boston, 1872)

Goupil, Paris (acquired from the above May 10, 1880, no. 14523)
E. Sécrétan, Paris (acquired from the above, June 1880)  
De(i)sider Tope(r)czer (by 1956)

Clifford Hills, United States (acquired from the above through French & Co., 1958, and sold, his estate sale, 1986)
Gary Pizzitolia, Avon, Connecticut (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired from the above


Possibly, Boston, Williams and Everett, 1872
Bordeaux, Musée Goupil; New York, Dahesh Museum of Art; Pittsburgh, The Frick Art & Historical Center, Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise, October 2000-August 2001, no. 34 


Gérôme, oeuvres, Paris, Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale (28 volumes of mounted photographs of Gérôme's paintings and sculptures, the gift of his widow), vol. 18, p. 2 
M. Prost, Catalogue of the works of Gérôme, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1883 (1847, Jeune Grecs faisant batter des coqs…une reduction du tableau (h. 0,39, l. 0,55), s’est vendue 5 550 Fr, Paris, vente du comte d’Acquila, fév. 68, p. 3r)
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue raisonné, London, 1986, p. 186, no. 15, illustrated p. 187 with related photogravure (as "lost")
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 212, no. 15, illustrated with related photogravure
Régine Bigorne, “Visions of Antiquity,” Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Bordeaux, Musée Goupil, New York, Dahesh Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, the Frick Art & Historical Center, 2000, p. 94, no. 34, illustrated p. 92 with related albumin silver print


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in perfect condition. The stretcher is original. The canvas is unlined. The paint layer is cleaned and nicely varnished. There do not appear to be any retouches. The painting should be hung in its current condition.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Though best known as an Orientalist artist, Jean-Léon Gérôme began his career as a leader of a group of young painters studying in Paris with Charles Gleyre and Paul Delaroche.  Inspired by Greek art and the recent discoveries of frescoes at Pompeii and Herculaneum (sites that Gérôme himself had visited during his extensive international travels), as well as by contemporaries’ love of narrative, these Néo-grecs or Pompëistes painted antique genre scenes with a salacious touch and a distinctive, sun-drenched palette.  Such subjects were the perfect vehicle for Gérôme to display his lifelong love of drama, theater, and gesture –-elements which each appear in this foundational painting –- and to indulge his developing and seemingly divergent interests in color, light, atmosphere, and the precise, archaeological reconstruction of the classical and, later, Eastern world. 

Le Combat de Coqs, the most art historically important réduction of Gérôme’s first exhibited Salon painting of the same name (1846, Salon 1847, now Musée d’Orsay, fig. 1), and the only version indisputably by the artist’s own hand,1 was produced for one of the nineteenth-century art world’s most transformative and entrepreneurial figures, the publisher and art dealer Adolphe Goupil. The modest size, spare application of paint, and attention to line suggest the purpose of this picture – to act as a model for the photogravures and other mechanical reproductions that Goupil & Cie. would make from it from 1865 forward.  (A second photogravure made by Goupil-- this time from the original painting - was also circulated after 1883.) As with the other réductions (of which at least two lesser versions have been confirmed),the artist has deliberately altered the composition, in order to differentiate the picture from the original Salon work, and from the other versions as well (compare fig. 1). This calculated practice would also have served to enhance the value of each réduction, as it suggested a new, improved, and more nuanced version of the painting on which they were based.  As Patricia Mainardi explains, “In performance, we never assume that opening night is qualitatively better than later presentations – first performances are, in fact, usually weaker than subsequent ones, which gain in depth from greater experience and familiarity with the material,” (Patricia Mainardi, “The 19th-century art trade: copies, variations, replicas,” The Van Gogh Museum Journal 2000, pp. 63-4.).  In the case of the artist’s Duel After the Masquerade (1857-9, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore), a version of the painting at The Condé Museum, Chantilly, France, Gérôme recounted to the dealer Ernest Gambart how he had improved on the original, both clarifying the narrative, and adjusting the foreground figures to the landscape background:

I learn with the greatest pleasure that you have sold the reproduction of the Duel that I have done for you, and I am all the more pleased since I hear that it has been bought by a distinguished amateur; one is always glad to know one’s offspring is well located. The alterations that I have made from the original picture have singularly improved this composition, especially in its general aspect; some sacrifices made in the background have left to the premier plan, that is to say, to the important figures, all their effect, and I regret not to have thought of it at first when I executed the original. This improvement has been most valuable, and you would have been struck with it had you been able to see one with the other. I have modified the head of the savage; it was not well understood at first who was the adversary; now it is plain to every one and con- fusion is no longer possible. In short, I am happy that it has fallen into the hands of Mr[.] [William T.] Walters of Baltimore, since I am told he can appreciate things seriously conceived and seriously executed (quoted in Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Works of Jean- Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 75).

Gérôme’s alterations or “performances” to Le Combat de Coqs, therefore, created years after the painting’s debut, would similarly have confirmed his commitment to artistic perfection, and his tireless pursuit of the ideal.3

The appeal of réductions in the nineteenth century was indebted to far more practical reasons as well.  For those without the means to purchase a popular Salon picture – or indeed, the space to display it - reduced versions offered an opportunity to enjoy similar works on a more manageable scale.  (The original painting of Le Combat de Coqs measures 56 by 80 in. [143 by 204 cm.], hardly suitable for most private homes.)  Competition for Salon pictures, moreover, could be prohibitively high: After a frenzy of interest, and much to the distress of Théophile Gautier, who had lauded the painting in the influential journal La Presse, and fervently wished to buy it, the original version of Le Combat de Coqs disappeared into the collection of M. Roux-Labourie until 1873, when it was purchased by the State for the Musée de Luxembourg.  In 1867, shortly after the present réduction was completed and made known through reproductions by Goupil, the esteemed art dealer Knoedler bought réductions of several Salon paintings for the well-known New York collector Israel Corse, for an average of 10,000 francs each.  (Many of these were by the celebrated artist Alexandre Cabanel.)  So popular were these réductions that contemporaries noted that they were often “purchased before they leave the easel, or, indeed, before they are half finished,” (Lucy Hooper, “Art in Paris,” Art Journal, New York, n.s. 2, no. 3, 1876, p. 90).  The trade in smaller versions of a successful painting, then – in Europe, America, Britain, and beyond --accounted for a large portion of the nineteenth-century art market, as supply sought to meet demand.  The impressive early provenance of this work --it was placed by Goupil into several important aristocratic and international private collections –- and the number of reproductions that it inspired, are both a consequence of and testament to this fact.

In developing the composition for Le Combat de Coqs in 1846, the painting upon which this original autograph réduction was based, Gérôme initiated the technical processes for which he would become renowned.  Having just lost the Prix de Rome due to “deficiencies in figure drawing,”4 Gérôme diligently studied physiognomy and the human form, in preparation for the upcoming Salon.  Intent upon mastering animal anatomy as well, he went daily to the Jardin des Plantes to sketch, making pictures that would ultimately be used toward his first entry to that prestigious annual event, Le Combat de Coqs.5  In addition to these exercises en plein air, Gérôme hired a well-known Parisian model to sit for the composition, sketching her in his urban studio.6 For the landscape and vegetation, Gérôme made use of a sketchbook of the Italian countryside he had compiled in 1844; a mirror image of one of the drawings from that book was used for the background here.6  These numerous on-the-spot studies and drawings from life, recycled from composition to composition, would become the foundations of the artist’s rigorously academic approach and, along with the formation of a vast photographic library, would enable him to achieve the remarkable accuracy for which his detailed compositions were known.  Of all the recorded réductions of Le Combat de Coqs, the present work – perhaps because entirely by Gérôme’s own hand - features the highest degree of finish, and offers the best example of the artist’s fast developing, and wholly inimitable, style.8

The subject of Le Combats de Coqs suggests Gérôme’s exacting process as well. Drawn from a variety of antique sources, including reliefs on the sides of a marble chair in the theater of Dionysus in Athens,9 a Greek terra cotta sculpture featuring two boys antagonizing a pair of cocks with an elaborately robed girl looking on (circa 330-100 BC, Walters Art Gallery) (fig. 2), and a classical floor mosaic of two fighting cocks (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), Gérôme’s archaeological interests are already on full display, even at this early stage of his career.  A lekythoi (funeral vessel) of the fourth century BC, moreover, carefully recorded by the artist on the tomb behind the figures, both acknowledges the artist’s scholarly sources and reinforces the picture’s ostensible theme.  Here Gérôme playfully reinterprets the concept of “vanitas,” a familiar message in the grandes machines of the Paris Salon; his warning against the wasting of time in pursuit of frivolous activities, however, is missing one key component – the boy in charge of the second bellicose bird. Without this figure, whose role as sparring partner was often, in classical depictions, elided with that of flirtatious foil, the full homoerotic subtext of the subject falls to the wayside and the true meaning of Gérôme’s tongue-in-cheek title is nearly missed.  In another, highly original and somewhat controversial maneuver, Gérôme chose to elevate the subject in the Salon work (essentially a classicized domestic genre scene) to the status of a history painting, at once expanding it to epic proportions and reducing, some critics alleged, the glory of antiquity to the games of children.10

This catalogue note was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.

1 “I have carefully examined this painting, and am sure that it is the autograph reduction of the painter’s famous work in the Louvre of 1846 . . . this is the original reduction, and in another version of the catalogue [raisonné] the description would be changed,” typewritten document by Professor Gerald M. Ackerman [Gérôme expert and author of catalogue raisonné], July 22, 1986, P15.2, P14.2002, copy 6, Ackerman archives, Claremont, California.   I would like to thank Jon Swihart, Keeper of the Ackerman archives, for sharing this document with me.

            The painting hung at the Louvre between 1920 and 1986, at which time it was transferred to the Musée d’Orsay.

These versions are: Studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme, oil on canvas, 15 1Ž2 by 22 in. (39.5 by 56 cm.), ex-Donatis Collection and Attributed to Jean-Léon Gérôme, oil on canvas, 16 by 22 in. (40.6 by 55.9 cm.), ex-Chrysler Collection. The similar dimensions of all of these works reflect the size of the prints published and distributed by Goupil.

3 Despite its resounding popularity, Gérôme found several faults in the original composition which réductions would have helped him resolve (see Jean-Léon Gérôme, exh. cat., Dayton, Ohio, 1972, p. 3). 

4 P15.2, P14.2002, copy 5, Ackerman archives, op.cit.

5 See Jean-Léon Gérôme, op.cit., 1972, p. 30.
In a rare newspaper article on the subject, Gérôme recounts visiting the Jardin des Plantes and instigating fights to rapidly sketch by dropping one breed of bird (“a golden pheasant cock of the gamiest sort”) into a group of a “commoner breed,” (Ida M. Tarbell, “Painting Animals: Talks with Gérôme, Bonheur and Riviere,” The Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1894, p. 15).

6 The model may be Marie-Christine Roux, the Bohemian muse of numerous artists and photographers, including Ingres and Nadar (Nadar: Les années créatrices: 1854-1860, exh. cat., Paris, 1994, p. 313).  Roux’s career ended tragically and abruptly in 1863-4, when she drowned en route to Algeria.

7 I would like to thank Jon Swihart, keeper of the Ackerman archives, for sharing this rare image with me.
Gérôme’s depiction of plant-life and vegetation in the original painting was revered by many of the artist’s students and followers, including Henri Rousseau, who imitated the foliage in his jungle scenes (Jean-Léon Gérôme, op.cit., 1972, p. 30).

8 Réductions were often done by the artists themselves or, as was the case with other versions of the present work, by colleagues, students, or talented copyists under the supervision of Goupil & Cie. (One of the réductions was sold by Goupil in 1868, during Charles Bargue’s period of “apprenticeship” to Gérôme; it is possible that Bargue’s talents were employed in at least one of these versions [Gerald M. Ackerman, “The Bargue-Gérôme Cours de dessin: Goupil & Cie attacks a national problem,” in Gérôme and Goupil: Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, p. 59].)  Often aided by sketches and directives by the original artist, such images were usually slavishly exact – if not also creatively uninspired. These qualities make the varied réductions associated with Le Combat de Coqs all the more unique.  For general notes on the topic of versions and reproductions of original pictures in the nineteenth century, see Stephen Bann, “Reassessing Repetition in Nineteenth-Century Academic Painting: Delaroche, Gérôme, Ingres,” pp. 27-51, in The Repeating Image: Multiples in French Painting form David to Matisse, ed. Eik Kahng, exh. cat., New Haven, Connecticut, 2007.

9 H. Hoffmann, “Hahnenkampf in Athens,” Revue archeologique, 1974, pp. 208ff. 

10  P15.2, P14.2002, copy 5, Ackerman archives, op.cit.