Published: February 6, 2001
Gerome and Goupil:
NEW YORK CITY – Organized by the Dahesh Museum of Art, the Musée Goupil in Bordeaux, and the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, the international loan exhibition “Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise” makes its American debut at the Dahesh Museum of Art, at 601 Fifth Avenue, and runs through May 5. New York will be able to see a spectacular group of masterworks by France’s greatest academic painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme – the largest number exhibited in the city since the Nineteenth Century – as well as the first American showing of extraordinary reproductive prints of these paintings published contemporaneously by the artist’s dealer, Adolphe Goupil, and today in the collection of the Musée Goupil.
“There has not been an exhibition in the United States devoted to Jean-Léon Gérôme in nearly 30 years and never one devoted to the House of Goupil & Cie and its founder Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893), the most renowned art dealer/publisher in Nineteenth Century France,” says Stephen Edidin, curator of the Dahesh Museum of Art.
Over a period that lasted nearly a century, Goupil developed and utilized emerging printmaking and photographic technologies to meet a growing popular demand for inexpensive art reproductions – a demand they created in part and sought to satisfy. Although Goupil & Cie was centered in Paris, it opened offices and galleries throughout Europe, the Americas, and the Near and Far East. In doing so, it helped create the international art market we know today.
Many of Goupil’s and Gérôme’s clients were American. The wealthiest families, including the Astors and Vanderbilts, purchased paintings, while the expanding middle class bought prints. These sales made Gérôme into an international celebrity, blurring, long before Andy Warhol, the lines between high art and popular culture.
Curated by Pierre-Lin Renié of the Musée Goupil, the exhibition features over 20 paintings and sculptures by Gérôme, most of them originally sold by Goupil’s. Among the well-known works on view are “Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down)” – the inspiration for last summer’s hit film, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator – “Almeh (Belly Dancer),” “Arabs Crossing the Desert,” “Cairene Horse Dealer,” “Cock Fight,” “Duel After the Ball,” “King Candaules,” “Louis XIV and Moliere,” “Moorish Bath,” “Phryne,” “Plain of Thebes,” “The Prisoner,” and “Recreation in a Russian Camp.”
Over 40 reproductions of these and other works, in various formats ranging from small photographs (cartes de visite) to large photogravures and prints, illustrate how new technologies enabled the widespread dissemination of Goupil’s prints and photographs for all budgets. Many of the prints are themselves of exquisite quality and introduce a new audience to generally disregarded area of printmaking.
Public and private collections in the United States, France, Russia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have lent works from the exhibition, including the State Hermitage Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.
The Musée Goupil has also lent important documents – family photos, ledgers, catalogues, books, and illustrated magazines – which demonstrate the economic benefits that accrued to Goupil & Cie from their contractual relationship with Gérôme, who became Goupil’s son-in-law and, thus, part of the family business. The enterprise created by a brilliant businessman and a talented artist, reinforced by contractual and kinship ties, provides a fascinating case history in the industrialization of art in Nineteenth Century France and the mass production and marketing of sought-after images, images that became as well known and satisfying as movies or television images are today. The exhibition explores the intertwined relationship between the artist and his dealer/publisher/father-in-law as well as detailing how the machine de guerre created by Goupil actually worked.
“Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise” opens with Gérôme’s most grandiloquent and thoroughly cinematic image, “Pollice Verso” (1878), a scene of a gladiator in the Colosseum. Scrupulously researched, worked on for years, this scene of the arena and gladiators dramatically poised, waiting for thumbs up or thumbs down, was one that fascinated Gérôme. This is the same 125-year-old painting that served as a catalyst and reference for Twenty-First Century Hollywood filmmaker Ridley Scott, who used its very composition, costuming, coloration, and treatment of light to set up his own sound stage and imagine the grisly Roman contest. When he bought it in 1872, it was reproduced in photographic form in four sizes and sold for three years; thereafter it was reproduced as a photogravure. Goupil might sell such reproductions for at least 20 years.
The exhibition follows Gérôme’s career through his paintings, as he moves from Classical Antique and Neo-Grec subjects in his youth to the Orientalist subjects in his middle and later years, while occasionally painting modern history subjects or Parisian scenes. His virtuosity allowed him to produce simultaneously very different kinds of work for the Salon. For the 1861 Salon, for example, he submitted one Egyptian genre piece, four Neo-Grec works, and a composition set in the Seventeenth Century.
The works exhibited span his first showing at the Salon in 1846 to 1873, the height of his career, a period of enormous productivity for the artist and a time when conditions for building a worldwide art market were good. The mid- to late Nineteenth Century saw rapid economic expansion and vitality in Europe and America. There was more money in circulation, a bigger middle class, a desire for French art, new reproductive technologies, and a belief in the moral virtue of cultural consumption. And the world was becoming smaller. By 1869, the Suez Canal connected Europe to India and the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads connected the eastern and western United States. Better communication made it easier to market and sell prints and paintings worldwide.
Two works of Gérôme demonstrate the effectiveness of massive distribution through the reproductive processes perfected by the House of Goupil. Various formats and types of reproduction, two plates and a lithograph, accompany “After the Ball,” while photogravures in black and white and color complement “King Candaules.” Gérôme often made reductions or replicas of his most popular paintings, sometimes reducing their dimensions, other times actually shifting the compositions to please a customer or make changes he felt would improve a work following its first rendering. Multiple versions of one painting indicated its popularity. The photogravure process also permitted making variations to the plate, explaining slight variations within prints on view here.
Goupil: Innovator And Entrepreneur
Adolph Goupil (1806-1893) was a descendent of the Drouais family of painters. In 1829, he founded the Paris firm of Goupil, based on a partnership with print-seller Henry Rittner, who arrived from Stuttgart with the intention of selling German prints. The firm’s initial purpose was to make and publish original prints and engravings of paintings using the traditional processes of lithography and copperplate engraving. By developing and pursuing such newer processes as photography for photogravure later in the century, seeking always to mass-produce prints at lowest cost with the highest quality, Goupil brought art publishing into the industrial age.
By 1846, he expanded his business to include the sale of drawings and paintings. Exclusive reproduction rights were included in his contracts with artists, and before long he was able to control and profit from all stages of the production process. His small print shop on the Boulevard Montmartre developed into an international industrial company with branches around the world, including but not limited to Alexandria, Dresden, Geneva, Zurich, Athens, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Florence, Havana, Melbourne, New York, Sydney, Warsaw, and Johannesburg. A busy factory in Asnieres, outside of Paris, employed engravers, photographers, and printers who produced copies of artists’ works. These were sent off to various outlets – shops in Paris, provincial print sellers, branches or warehouses abroad.
The first generation of artists that he published, Delaroche, Gleyre, and Jalabert, benefited from the company’s international structure, dependable reputation, and sensitivity to consumer interests and budgets. Everyone knew that by working with Goupil one could become famous. Jean-Léon Gérôme, a jeweler’s son from Vesoul and an artistic prodigy, came to Paris in 1840 at the age of 16 to study with Delaroche, then at the height of his fame, and became his most loyal and devoted student. As Delaroche produced paintings for the Salon, Goupil made prints of them – a road that Gérôme was to follow.
Gérôme’s Early Career
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) was a successful and productive artist and teacher. His life spanned half a dozen changes in government, all of which honored him, and at least four major style movements, some of which he initiated, others, like Impressionism, which he railed against but survived. He was decorated repeatedly by the French government for his role in promoting French art outside of France and awarded numerous official commissions. During his lifetime – he died just before his 79th birthday – he exhibited paintings at the Salon for 57 years and sculpture for 23 years. A vigorous, demanding, and compassionate teacher, he taught at the Ecole for 40 years and had 2,000 students, more than 150 of them Americans.
While he has become best known as an Orientalist painter, Gérôme began his career as a leader of the Neo-Grecs, a group of young painters studying with Paul Delaroche, who was experimenting with creating a new kind of history painting that overlapped with scenes of everyday life. Inspired by Greek art and the discoveries of frescos at Pompei and Herculanum, the Neo-Grecs painted antique genre scenes, often imbued with a spot of otherwise taboo eroticism.
At the Salon of 1847, Gérôme’s Neo-Grec painting “The Cock Fight” attracted the attention of the poet and critic Theophile Gautier, who sang the praises of this 23-year-old, predicting his widespread fame. Gautier was delighted with this picture, not only because of its lighter palette, which distinguished it from other works at the Salon, but for treating an ordinary subject in the manner of an historical theme with life-size figures. Gautier interpreted this as a daring, poetic reaction to realism. He immediately became Gérôme’s journalistic promoter and eloquent defender, a role he played throughout his career. Goupil published a photographic reproduction of a reduced replica – both in the exhibition – of the original painting.
As a result of this acclaim, Gérôme began to receive many state commissions, including portraits, which he did not like doing, and decorative projects like church paintings, and a government commission for the Universal Exposition of 1855, which proved to be the turning point in his career. First launched in London in 1851, international expositions commonly drew a million people a month; they introduced artists to the widest possible audience, a fact never lost on Gérôme.
He submitted two pictures in 1855: a traditional, large-scale historical allegory, “Age of Augustus,” a symbolic glorification of the new reign of Emperor Napoleon III, and “Recreation in a Russian Camp,” his first realist or ethnographic work. The latter is based on a sketch he took on his first trip to the Balkans, when he was looking for Russian vassal types for his great Augustus canvas. Enthusiastically praised, it outshone the more official painting, and he was awarded the cross of a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the first of many government decorations.
With the money from his commission, Gérôme financed his first trip to Egypt in 1856. During this eight-month sojourn – four months sailing on the Nile and four months in Cairo – he filled notebook after notebook with sketches later used for his many Orientalist paintings. He recorded every new sight: deserts, street scenes, social types, Islamic architecture, and the endless variety of costumes and accoutrements. After this first trip, the Middle East became a regular destination and a source of inspiration for much of his life. Between 1856 and 1880, he made at least seven other trips. More than a third of his finished paintings (250 out of 600) are of Orientalist subjects, primarily of Islamic Cairo. Virtually all can be considered genre paintings, where scenes from daily life are treated with an attention to detail and a realistic technique that gives them exceptional authority.
Returning from the Middle East, he prepared for the Salon of 1856, where he exhibited his first Orientalist paintings “Prayer in the House of an Arnaut Chief” and “Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert.” That same year, these two works traveled to the United States – his first paintings to be seen in America – and were shown in New York by the London art dealer Ernest Gambart. “After the Ball,” one of his rare pictures of Parisian life, also shown at the 1856 Salon, was a wild success and he became famous almost overnight.
Gérôme’s love of drama, theatre, gesture, and costume is on display in this haunting image of the aftermath of a duel – perhaps after insults exchanged at a masked ball, a popular Parisian event. A wounded Pierrot has collapsed in the arms of a Duke de Guise. A surgeon, dressed as the Doge of Venice, stanches the flow of blood, while a frightened Domino holds his head. An American Indian walks away with his second, the Harlequin. That same year the city of Nantes bought from Gambart the “Plain of Thebes,” the artist’s first work to enter a public collection.
The Collaboration Begins
When Goupil took an interest in him in 1859, Gérôme was already famous and known to him through his connection to Delaroche, an artist Goupil had published in the past. Their initial business partnership is marked by the sale of six of Gérôme’s paintings, a mix of classical and Orientalist subjects.
Four years later, in 1863, Gérôme married Goupil’s daughter Marie (he was 39 and she was 21) and his relationship to the House of Goupil was solidified, which led Zola to say in 1867 that “Mr Gérôme works for the House of Goupil, he makes a painting in order for it to be reproduced through photos and engravings and to be sold in thousands of copies.” But as far as we know, this was no embarrassment. Both men understood the nature of their profitable enterprise and their need for each other’s services. Both were intent on giving the public what it wanted, and they reaped the benefits individually and for the family business.
Goupil bought directly from his son-in-law Gérôme and shared profits with him, usually 50-50. Gérôme did not have the right to sell a painting directly before the firm had reproduced it in some way, nor could he give permission for reproduction without referring to Goupil. Yet Goupil greatly contributed to Gérôme’s reputation by circulating prints and photographs of his work in France and abroad.
From the time they began doing business together in 1859, 337 of the artist’s paintings were sold by the Gallery, representing 430 transactions, and nearly 370 different reproductions of 122 of his paintings were made, in many different formats including color. A 20-year period between 1865 and 1885 was the most profitable with the American market and major collectors in France and the Middle East, local dealers like Knoedler in New York, and Wallace, Gambart, MacLean, and Colnaghi in London, who were supplied directly by Goupil.
Already renowned and prospering, in 1864 Gérôme was appointed professor of one of the three paintings ateliers at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During his tenure, his students included Boldini, Bonnard, Dagnan-Bouveret, de Nittis, Lecomte de Nouy, Douanier Rousseau, the sculptors Bartholome and Maillol, and Fernand Leger. Respected by his students for his skills and concern, he influenced his father-in-law’s choice of artists, and some of the master’s students belonged to Goupil’s stable.
If their work fitted in with the publisher’s commercial policy, they benefited from its publishing sales and distribution facilities. Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, whom Gérôme considered his most worthy student, was one. Doing business with Goupil brought fame. The publisher’s choice and range of artists reflected the overriding political ideas of the times and he received government aid as well as awards in recognition of his efforts to promote French art worldwide.
Goupil left little to chance in his business. If a painting interested him, as did “King Candaules,” he would buy it and sometimes commission a replica, if there was not already another version. The engraver could use the replica, since the original painting might still be for sale. Once the reproduction was finished, the replica also went on sale. This whole process might take a few years and a major financial investment, since engraving – the high-end of a wide range of reproduction techniques – was a costly and time-consuming activity. In fact, only six of Gérôme paintings were engraved, but they had pride of place in the publisher’s catalogues.
At the other end of the range, mass-produced photographic reproductions suitable for framing were launched under the title “Photographic Gallery” in 1858. Photogravure, a technique developed by Goupil, is a way of printing photographs by copperplate engraving. It produces proofs with the qualities of the finest prints, while being close to photography in the continuous rendering of the image. Facing the plate with steel allowed thousands of images to be pulled without damaging the plate.
Three photographs comprised Goupil’s first reproductions of Gérôme paintings and appeared in 1859. From the end of the 1860s on, most of the published photographs appeared in an album containing works in various formats, sizes, and prices to satisfy all levels of clientele. The most expensive were “Goupil Museum” photographs suitable for framing. Smaller “Visiting Cards” or “Album Cards” were less expensive. Photogravure versions, published later, were more luxurious.
To keep costs and selling prices relatively low, most photogravures were published in black and white, although a few were published in color, such as “Phyrné Before the Tribunal” and “After the Ball,” his most popular images. A client could choose the costume in red and green, or blue and yellow. Original etchings, a more artistic product than photographs, connected Goupil to an intermediate clientele. At the top of the price list and clearly intended for the rich were six of Gérôme’s works engraved with a burin, a costly technique most often reserved for great historical paintings.
The only painting published in lithographic form, even though it was the cheapest and fastest means of reproduction, was “After the Ball” in its original 1857 version. Although not typical of the artist’s work, it enjoyed the greatest popularity, attested to by the variety of reproductions (etchings, photographs, photogravures) and the different sizes. The only other lithographs were after three drawings from the Bargue-Gérôme drawing manual “Cours de Dessin – Head of a Fellah (¾ View),” “Head of a Fellah in Profile,” and “Alcibaide’s Dog” – all on view in the exhibition. Lithography was an especially appropriate medium for reproducing drawings.
Gérôme’s work was much more widely circulated in photographic than in print form and he was well aware of the value of photography in diffusing and popularizing his works. Photography, he wrote, “…has opened our eyes and forced us to see what we formerly would never have seen, it has done art a considerable, inestimable service.” This modern technique that he too used in his work contributed to his success.
Juxtaposing paintings and prints throughout the exhibition allows the visitor to compare how different media rendered the same image, and how the variety of formats and sizes changed the experience of viewing art.
While Goupil owned reproduction rights over the works it published, he sometimes sold those rights to book publishers for use as illustrations – in America it was Appleton, Cassell, or Little, Brown & Co. – or even to tapestry makers to copy. Goupil owned rights to slide reproduction, whether used for educational purposes (the ubiquitous slide lecture) or theatrical purposes, such as magic lantern shows. Authorization to use Gérôme’s “Almeh” was granted in 1902 for 105 francs for a “slide show during performances given in various London theatres.” Publications and other transactions brought the artist substantial royalties.
An unusual and profitable, if modest, activity for Goupil was the production of statuettes made from subjects in Gérôme’s paintings. Goupil commissioned well-known sculptors such as Alexandre Falguiere to make models from paintings and studies by the master, perhaps adapting or changing it to make it more marketable. Goupil served as intermediary between artists and mold makers, marble and ivory carvers, and bronze founders. Two of Gérôme’s most sought-after works in the exhibition are the statuettes of Almeh and Phyrné, the latter a figure from his “scandalous” painting “Phyrné in the Areopagus.”
Like the prints, the statuettes were produced in many different sizes and materials – plaster, terracotta, ivory, marble, bronze – with different mounts and, of course, different prices. From 1869, Goupil sold the statuettes in France and in New York through Michael Knoedler. Before long they were found in middle-class drawing rooms, as well as artists’ and photographers’ studios, where they could serve as aids for posing models à la “Phyrné.”
Orientalist works, the largest category in the exhibition, reflect Gérôme’s embrace of his subject matter and its popularity with the public. They show us the distance he had traveled from his Neo-Grec style to ethnographic genre scenes, from Paris to the Middle East, with deserts and caravans, prayers and mosques, Arnauts and Bachi-Bouzouki, dancers and slave sales and secluded women.
Charles Gleyre, an influential Swiss painter and teacher, introduced Gérôme to Oriental subject matter when the young artist briefly studied with him; he had traveled extensively in Egypt in 1834-35. Gleyre’s most successful painting, “Evening,” became the source of Gérôme’s popular “Prisoner,” exhibited at the Salon in 1863 along with “Louis XIV and Moliere,” and his controversial and endlessly reproduced “Phyrné Before the Areopagus.”
In an effort at ethnographic accuracy Gérôme “quoted” from early writers like Edward Lane, who made his own drawings of religious life, in Islamic compositions including “Prayer on the Housetops” of 1865, “Young Greeks at the Mosque, Muezzin,” and “Prayer in the Mosque of Amr, Cairo.” These quotations were widely accepted in the Nineteenth Century as attempts at scientific ethnography, often backed up with photographs, even if manipulated by the painter’s need for a more perfect composition.
In urban Cairo, Gérôme painted the picturesque, supposedly ferocious but actually impotent “Arnauts with Two Whippets” (1867). Arnauts were mercenary soldiers and no more than decorative remnants of Cairo’s glorious past, and Gérôme included his own beloved pets – yet we still believe the scene is authentically Oriental.
Although photographs and photogravures after such paintings as “Almeh” and “Sabre Dance in a Café” (1876) surely cause less scandal now than when first viewed, they still remain intoxicating. But it is the nudes that evoked the most comment, then as now. In the “Moorish Bath” (1872), shown with etchings, photogravures, and photographs after it, the artist’s control of light in a secluded space heightened the sense of intimacy and therefore the erotic charge of the composition. The photogravure process, by its very nature, was especially effective in capturing the atmospheric qualities of Gérôme’s paintings.
Modern History Paintings
The last paintings and prints were done in the 1870s and include Seventeenth Century subjects like “Rembrandt in his Studio,” “Louis XIV et Moliere,” “Collaboration,” as well as modern historical scenes set in his beloved Cairo: “General Bonaparte in Egypt” and “General Bonaparte in Cairo,” depicting the victor surveying his new territory. Although Gérôme’s foray into modern or contemporary history was not extensive, only a small part of his production, these works and prints made after them are well represented in Goupil’s catalogues.
Gérôme’s art has made an amazing comeback in public and critical esteem from a time in the mid-Twentieth Century when a major canvas might fetch no more than a few hundred dollars – a far cry from the glory days when he was one of the most famous artists in France and the object of Goupil’s marketing genius. It is once again accepted that Gérôme was a great artist.
This exhibition demonstrates that with a group of choice paintings and introduces a body of prints from the astonishing collection of the Musée Goupil that helped make his reputation more than a hundred years ago. These prints are not mere historical documents, however, but often themselves fine works of art.
When the exhibition closes in New York on May 5, it travels to the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, where it will be on view from June 7 to August 12.
“Gérôme & Goupil: Art and Enterprise” is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions by leading French and American scholars. The French- and English-language editions of the catalogue, published by Reunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, contains essays by Gerald Ackerman, Helene LaFont-Couturier, Regine Bigorne, Stephen R. Edidin, DeCourcy E. McIntosh, and Florence Rionnet. The English edition is available from the Dahesh Museum of Art for $45.
The Dahesh Museum of Art is at 601 Fifth Avenue. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm. For information, call 212/759-0606.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm