JEAN-LÉON GÉRÔME | BEFORE THE AUDIENCE
1824 - 1904
BEFORE THE AUDIENCE
signed J.L. GEROME lower right on the bench
oil on canvas
74 by 60cm., 29 by 23½in.
We are grateful to Dr Emily M. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work which will be included in her revision of the artist's catalogue raisonné by Gerald M. Ackerman.
Goupil & Cie., Paris
Alberti, Paris (by 1881; his sale: Paris, 13 April 1888)
Chevalier, Paris (purchased from the above)
Boussod, Valadon & Cie.
Isidore Montaignac, Paris (purchased from the above in 1895)
Sale: American Art Association, New York, 1895, lot 29
Henry D. Knox, East Aurora, New York
Lt. James H. Knox (by descent from the above. Sale: Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 28 February 1945, lot 192)
Frank Schnittjer, New York
Sale: Sotheby's New York, 31 October 1985, lot 37
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above
Recueil; Oeuvres de J. L. Gérôme, Paris, vol. XX, no. 3
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 1986, p. 105, illustrated, pp. 248-49, no. 296, catalogued & illustrated (as Waiting for an Audience/Avant l’audience [Autour du poêle])
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 135, catalogued & illustrated (as Avant l’audience)
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Monographie révisée, Paris, 2000, p. 114, illustrated, pp. 302-03, no. 296, catalogued & illustrated (as Avant l'audience)
The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), (exh. cat.), Los Angeles, Paris, Madrid, 2010, p. 210, cited with note 1
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on long-term loan November 2007 - October 2016
Painted in 1881.
Before the Audience situates two men and a black cat warming themselves by a stove in a richly ornamented Ottoman interior. Resplendent with lustrous Iznik tiles, the scene evokes the grandeur of Topkapi Palace without being based directly on any hitherto identified interior. Gérôme is thought to have visited Topkapi while in Istanbul; he also drew upon photographs by Abdullah Frères to depict these kinds of images. Subjects drawn from Turkey increasingly supplanted Cairo in Gérôme’s art following his travels to Istanbul in 1871, 1875 and 1879; Gérôme announced this shift through compositions such as The Harem in the Kiosk of 1870 (lot 29). In its spectacular depiction of Iznik tiles the present work bears comparison with Gérôme’s The Snake Charmer (Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown), whose setting is itself based on the mid-sixteenth century Iznik decoration of Altin Yol (‘Golden Way’) in the Harem at Topkapi. That work was made infamous by its illustration on the cover of the first edition of Edward Said’s Orientalism of 1978.
The present work comes closest to A Chat by the Fireside, a smaller work of 46.4 by 38cm in an American institution (fig. 1). While the overall setting and staffage are similar, here the figure to the right wears more lavish dress typical of the northeastern reaches of the Ottoman empire. According to Gerald Ackerman the two paintings were bought by the same collector, ‘Alberti’, via Gérôme’s dealer Goupil. More recently however, Scott C. Allan has posited that this may have been an error caused by the works’ similar subject matter, and that only the present work was clearly in this collection (see 2010 exhibition catalogue, op. cit.).
Gérôme’s customary painstaking execution of the scene’s details, and particularly successful handling of diffuse light, combine to lend the present work a distinctly poetic atmosphere. As much a depiction of a rich Ottoman interior, the present work is almost an allegory for the sense of touch, in a tradition which dates back to the Renaissance. The viewer is invited to imagine his or her own hands running over the warm burner, enjoying the peace and comfort which at any moment could be disrupted by the door to the left being thrown open.