Lot 2
  • 2

Jean-Léon Gérôme

50,000 - 70,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • La Joueuse de Cerceau (The Hoop Dancer)
  • signed J. L. Gerome and inscribed a mon ami Dawant (on the base)
  • polychromed plaster
  • height: 9⅛ in.
  • 23.2 cm (on a 2 1/2 in., 6.4 cm base)


Albert-Pierre Dawant, Paris (gifted from the artist)
Thence by descent to the heirs of the above
Tanagra Gallery, Paris
Gerald M. Ackerman, California
Acquired from the above


Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Detroit Institute of Arts; Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Romantics to Rodin: French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture from North American Collections, March 4, 1980-April 29, 1981, no. 153


Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue raisonné, London, 1986, p. 316, no. S. 21 P, illustrated p. 317
Florence Rionnet, "Goupil et Gérôme: regards croisés sur l'édition sculptée," Gérôme & Goupil: Art et Entreprise, exh. cat., Musée Goupil, Bordeaux; Dahesh Museum of Art, New York; The Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, 2000, p. 53
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 388, no. S. 21 P, illustrated

Catalogue Note

In 1878, the discovery of a trove of ancient terracotta statuettes at the archaeological site of Tanagra at Boeotia, Greece, captured the public’s imagination. Dynamic, brightly colored, and produced for mass consumption, these diminutive figurines held particular interest for contemporary artists, including Jean-Léon Gérôme. Indeed, the Tanagra figurines would preoccupy and influence the celebrated painter for the remainder of his career, and would directly inspire the creation, in 1891, of The Hoop Dancer, Gérôme’s most popular and widely reproduced sculpted work.1 The present sculpture, a rare plaster version of this subject, addresses every major facet and phase of Gérôme’s professional interests, from classicism and archaeological reconstructions to Orientalism and commercial pursuits. So too, in its delicate coloring and lithesome pose, The Hoop Dancer offers insights into Gérôme’s views on a wide variety of contemporary aesthetic debates and the role of sculpture in the modern age. Uniquely among his sculpted works, Gérôme envisioned The Hoop Dancer as both an independent artwork and as part of a larger ensemble. In 1890, plagued by accusations that he could not render movement or emotion in stone, he produced Tanagra, a life-size work that featured two interpretations of the classical and idealized female form (fig. 1). The seated figure, a monumental nude, stretches her hand outward, stoic, sober, and still. Balanced on her palm is the graceful Hoop Dancer, turning and twirling in a cascade of seemingly liquid Grecian robes.2 Her head dips into a golden ring that she cradles in one hand; in the other is a golden ball.3 Gérôme’s investigation into the rhythmic movement of the female body and the contortions of the human form, perfected in this work, had, in fact, begun years earlier, in a series of paintings depicting the ghawazee, or Egyptian dancing girls, and in numerous other Orientalist pictures inspired by his Middle Eastern travels.4 The similarities between these lyrical works and The Hoop Dancer suggests a previously unrecognized progression in Gérôme’s art, and the close relationship that existed for the artist between painting and sculpture, and between Orientalism and the classical world.

Since 1878, Gérôme had made sculptures of subjects taken from or inspired by his painted works, and, as early as 1859, had sculpted figurines that served as maquettes for his later pictures.6 In Painting Breathes Life into Sculpture (Sculpturae vitam insufflate picturae) (fig. 2), three versions of which exist, the purpose of this interplay is clear. The painting demonstrates the ancient tradition behind the artist’s own (controversial) method of polychromy, or tinting sculpture by hand,7 and validates his practice of painting genre scenes set in the classical world.8 Just as the woman paints a series of twelve terra cotta figures, all from an edition of The Hoop Dancer, so Gérôme produced numerous painted versions of this work for the market with the famed art dealer Adolphe Goupil, in two different sizes and a variety of media.9 The subject here is not simply an archaeological reconstruction of classical pursuits, therefore, but a means to historicize and justify Gérôme’s practice of polychromy, and to provide a tongue-in-cheek commentary on his own manufacture and commodification of marketable and decorative goods.10

Though perceived as a humbler medium than marble, bronze, or stone, plaster was of critical importance for Gérôme’s sculpting process and technique. The artist typically did his modeling in this medium, making life-size and remarkably life-like works from the model, to be used for his finished sculptures. These plaster “masters” – a source of great pride for the artist, who often photographed them together with the model to demonstrate their accuracy – were given to professional marble carvers to be copied, under his supervision, or to professional foundries, when a bronze was desired. For those sculptures meant for mass consumption, Gérôme often made and reserved less expensive plaster casts for his friends, from the same mold as the bronze. The present work, inscribed by the artist and therefore unique in his oeuvre, was given by Gérôme to his student and colleague Albert-Pierre Dawant (1852-1923, a black and white photograph of whom will be sold together with the present lot). Later, it was purchased by Professor Gerald Ackerman, Gérôme expert and author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné. As one of the only polychromed sculptures to retain its coloring, this plaster version of The Hoop Dancer is an invaluable record of Gérôme’s practice and intent.

The model for The Hoop Dancer, and for Tanagra, is debatable, but may have been one of Gérôme’s daughters or his mistress.

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

1 The Hoop Dancer would become the subject of poems, paintings, and sculptures, both by Gérôme and by others.

2 Gérôme may have drawn from contemporary developments in music and physical fitness in order to achieve his desired effect: the French inventor and photographer George Demeny (1850-1907) created exercises to music that were designed to promote grace and flexibility, much like Jaques-Dalcroze’s famed “eurhythmics,” or specialized training for musicians and dancers. Gérôme’s fascination with suspended, dynamic movement, of figures and of cloth, may also have been influenced by the bacchantes en delire, or Maenads, that he saw in Rome or Dresden, by live performances witnessed in Montmartre, or by the contemporary French dancer Loie Fuller (1862-1928).

3 The ball that The Hoop Dancer holds behind her back aligns it with another Tanagra-like figure produced by Gérôme about a decade later – this was his Ball Player of circa 1902. A plaster version of this subject, measuring 65 in. high (165 cm high) is now in the collection of the Musée Baron Martin at Gray (Haute-Saône).

4 The best known of these was Le Danse de l'Almée (Dayton Art Institute), exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1864 and engraved by the renowned art publisher and Gérôme’s father-in-law Adolphe Goupil. Between 1870 and 1900, Gérôme would continue to explore this theme through his images of bathing women, bashi-bazouk warriors, Turkish dervishes, and other animated Orientalist types.

5 Though newly independent from the Ottoman Empire, Greece was still, in the nineteenth century, considered a part of the “unchanging” and exotic East.  Orientalist painters therefore often fused these two worlds, merging antique themes and idealized nudes with Islamic architecture and design. For some of most striking of these hybrid works in Gérôme’s own oeuvre, see his Bathsheba of 1889 (private collection), a work he would later reproduce as a series of sculptures, and the Danseuse Mauresque (1903-4; multiple versions), one of Gérôme’s last sculpted works.

6 In this year, the sculpted figures of Mirmillo and Retiarius were used for the painting Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant (1859, Yale University Art Gallery) and later, for Pollice Verso (1872, Phoenix Art Museum).

Sculptures produced from paintings were often prompted by a painting’s success and the hope of profiting from their popularity. At first, the figures were not modeled by Gérôme himself – rather, he and Goupil enlisted Alexandre Falguière and Antonin Mercié, two of most famous sculptors of the time, and also skilled in painting. Later, perhaps dissatisfied with how others were interpreting his figures, Gérôme specifically designed works for reproduction and was closely involved in the process.

7 In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the debate about whether to add colors to statues or not was, according to Michael Hatt, “the most urgent issue in sculptural aesthetics” (Michael Hatt, “Thoughts and Things: Sculpture and the Victorian Nude,” Exposed: The Victorian Nude, ed. Alison Smith, London, 2001, p. 38-9). The argument against the practice may be summarized by the following contemporary view: “It is simply the antithesis of statuary . . . the renunciation of art. The wax figure is close to the painted flesh of corpses; the effect is horrific” (G. Geffroy, “Salons de 1892. Aux Champs-Élysées. VIII Les statues peintes,” La Vie artistique, Paris, 1893, p. 289).

Tanagra and other similar antique sculptures included light-hearted genre figures as well as religious subjects; one of the most famous showed a female dancer, Danseuse Titeux, unearthed at the base of the Acropolis in Athens in 1846 by the architect Philippe-Auguste Titeux. It may have been this specific work, as well as his Orientalist pursuits, that inspired Gérôme to create The Hoop Dancer, and that encouraged him to unite familiar scenes of daily life with the elements of classical art.

9 More than 100 versions of the figurine were produced after 1892, with editions in plaster, polychrome marble, biscuit, pewter, and bronze. This might be seen as a parallel with the paintings that were routinely copied and mass produced, also through Goupil.

10 In his attempt to perfect the ancient practice of polychromy, Gérôme ordered special Apennine marble known for its capacity to absorb pigment, which he applied in moderate quantities using a wax solution similar to encaustic. “I first set about coloring marbles,” the artist went on to explain, “because I’ve always been put off by the coldness of a statue if, once the work is finished, it is left in its natural state.” (“Je me suis tout d’abord occupe de la coloration des marbres, car j’ai toujours ete effraye par la froideur des statues,” Gérôme to Germain Papst, 2 February 1892, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, 4o V 5381). Gérôme may have read about sculpture and color in César-Ididore-Henri Cross' and Charles Henry’s treatise of 1884, L’Encaustique et les autres procédés de peinture chez les Anciens, or in the 1898 publication by Maxime Collignon, La Polychromie dans la sculpture grecque. The origins of the polychromy debate lay with Antoine-Chrysostôme Quatremère de Quincy’s Le Jupiter Olympien, published in 1814.

From 1880, nearly all of Gérôme’s sculptures had at least one polychromed version made after the original, eventually earning him the sobriquet “le pere Polychrome” by the French symbolist writer Marcel Schwob.