1824-1904 | French
Leda and the Swan
Signed J.L. Gérôme (lower right)
Oil on canvas
A young woman encounters a divine swan in this masterfully composed work by the great French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. His subject is Leda, the mythological beauty who was ravished by the Greek god Zeus in the guise of a swan. Gérôme interprets the highly charged tale not as one of aggression, but rather welcome intimacy. Brilliantly conceived, the oil on canvas brings together Gérôme’s aptitude for narrative painting with his incomparable virtuosity for capturing the female nude.
While Leda’s tale is one of seduction, the mythological anecdote plays a secondary role in this composition compared to Gérôme’s exploration of the female nude. Scenes of the bath were central to his output, likely inspired by his 1879 visit to the Grand Baths in Bursa. Filled with groups of female bathers naturally posed in various stages of undress, these Orientalist works – such as La Grande Piscine à Bursa shown to great acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1885 - are considered among the best of his oeuvre. Gérôme’s Leda embodies the inherent sensuality and academic idealism of these stunning compositions.
Unlike his bath scenes, however, the present work is situated en plein air, which allowed Gérôme to demonstrate his aptitude for capturing the effects of light on his subject’s luminous white skin. Perhaps the greatest painter of flesh from his age, Gérôme’s masterful application of texture, color tones, and chiaroscuro brings his idealized subject to life on canvas.
One of the most prominent French academic painters of the 19th century, Gérôme is today credited with fashioning an entirely new artistic ideology. One of the originators of the Orientalist style, Gérôme was also a stalwart defender of Academic painting, which was waning under the rise of Realism and Impressionism. Inspired by the year he spent in Rome with Paul Delaroche in 1834, he developed an insatiable appetite for traveling, and throughout his career, he traveled widely in Turkey, Egypt, and North Africa. His years exploring the Near East inspired his greatest Orientalist works, his Moorish and Turkish bath scenes.
A sculptor as well as a painter, his female figures have the same classical precision of Ingres but are executed with a more pronounced sensuality and realism. Enjoying great popularity and success during his lifetime, he was actively courted and patronized by private collectors and nobility. Today, the majority of Gérôme's works are held in major museums, with very few remaining in private hands.
Canvas: 32 1/2" high x 29" wide
Frame: 38" high x 34 1/2" wide
Art Pompier; Anti-impressionism: 19th Century French Salon Painting, 1974, The Emily Love Gallery, Hofstra University, New York, no. 48
Oeuvres de J.L. Gérôme, Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, XXIV, no. 6
Gérôme : Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1824-1904: Peintre, Sculpteur et Graveur, Vesoul, 1981, p. 81
Highlights from the Forbes Magazine Galleries, New York, 1985, by M. Kelly, p. 82
The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1986, by G. M. Ackerman, pp. 276-77, no. 427 (illustrated)
The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1800-1900s, New York 1993, by J. Davidson Reid, vol. 2, p. 632
Jean-Léon Gérôme: Monographie révisée, Catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, by G. M. Ackerman, p. 340, no. 427 (illustrated)
Bernheim Jeune & Fils, Inc.
F. Schnittjer and Son, New York
Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, March 19, 1942, lot 360
C.B. Squires, 1942
John Morrin, New York
Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, April 25, 1968, lot 264
Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, November 13-14, 1972, lot 51
Forbes Magazine Collection, New York
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans, 2013