Lot 9
  • 9

Jean-Léon Gérôme

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Moses on Mount Sinai
  • signed J.L. GEROME (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 1/4 by 49 1/2 in.
  • 74.3 by 125.7 cm


Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Property of a Southern Private Collector, February 28, 1990, lot 34
Borghi & Co., New York 
Private Collection, United States (purchased from the above in 1991 and sold: Sotheby's, London, May 30, 2008, lot 326)
Acquired at the above sale


Paris, Cercle de L'Union artistique, 1895


Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 2000, p. 344, no. 437.2, illustrated p. 345


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has been restored and should be hung in its current state. The canvas has a lining applied with a non-wax adhesive. The paint layer is cleaned, retouched and varnished. There is a retouch above the clouds in the sky on the left, and a spot in the blue sky between the dark clouds in the center left. There do not appear to be any retouches around Moses himself. There are retouches along the right edge from top to bottom. There is a horizontal restoration to the left of the peak of the brown hill. In the foreground, some of the original color reads strongly under ultraviolet light within the crowds of people, but there are actual retouches in some of the nearest figures in the lower right, in the lower center in the base of the brown hill, and in the lower left corner. There are a couple of other small restorations, but for a picture of this scale and period, the condition can be considered to be very good.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1895-1900, Gérôme’s interpretation of Moses on Mount Sinai is an impressive demonstration of his mastery of color and complex compositional elements. The overall effect is a powerful evocation of one of the greatest moments in Jewish history. The setting for Gérôme’s painting derives from descriptions of the Revelation in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy:

“On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because the Lord had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of the furnace; and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly” (Exodus 19). 

“The Lord said to Moses: Ascend to Me to the mountain and remain there, and I shall give you the stone Tablets and the teaching and the commandment that I have written...” (Exodus 24). 

Gérôme situates his portrayal at the moment of high drama, when Moses appears with the tablets, and the massed children of Israel are overcome with awe and wonder. While Gérôme clearly imbues the scene with a heightened imagination, it is informed by an understanding of the text and the holy site itself: the artist completed studies of Sinai on expeditions in the 1870s, and the particular characteristics of the mountain are well described. As a whole, the descriptive nature of the work, in conjunction with the splendid massing of the crowds, the precision with which the figures are articulated, the sure handling of the highlights in the drapery, and the effects of clouds and dust, are all splendid characteristics of Gérôme's late style.

The present work is a larger version of a painting en grisaille, which Gérôme executed for reproduction in photogravure. Ultimately the illustration was bound along with ten similar works by Gérôme and other renowned artists of the period in La Biblia nell'Arte, published in Bergamo in 1917. A preparatory study for the present work, measuring 29 by 45 inches, in color but with a less detailed composition, is in a Private Collection.