Property from the Najd Collection
1824 - 1904
Jeune Fille du Caire
signed J.L. GEROME lower right
oil on canvas
Unframed: 81 by 65cm., 31¾ by 25½in.
Framed: 125.5 by 108cm., 49½ by 42½in.
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.
This painting presents well and is ready to hang. The canvas has been relined. Under close inspection a pattern of hairline craquelure is visible in some areas, notably her gold waistcoat, and the architecture in the upper-left. Under ultra-violet light the varnish layers fluoresce evenly and opaquely, preventing the UV from fully penetrating and making the surface difficult to read; there appear to be some strokes of retouching in the background above the figure, and in the upper-left corner, and some other possible signs.
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Almeh, from the Arabic ‘learned woman’, was the name for a class of female entertainers and courtesans in Egypt. Trained in dancing, singing and poetry, almehs (Arabic plural awalim) were present at festivals and entertainments and were also hired as mourners at funerals.
Gérôme's composition Dance of the Almeh (1863, Dayton Art Institute) marked an important early appearance of such women in his oeuvre. He later had the chance to observe and study almeh girls on his visit to the Fayoum Oasis in 1868. His travelling companion, Paul Lenoir, recorded their encounter in his description of their travels published in 1872, and Gérôme’s brother-in-law, Albert Goupil, took photographs of them.
So enamoured was Gérôme by the almeh girls, that he even bargained for items of their clothing, which could be worn by his models on his return to France. In fact, Gérôme painted a whole series of pictures of almehs in the next few years, all of them shown wearing the same silk trousers and diaphanous blouses. Often these paintings were single-figure compositions with the model staring seductively at the viewer, as shown here. The sitter, framed by a doorway with a cigarette in hand, makes eye contact with the viewer, as if inviting us to enter.