Jean-Léon Gérôme was the leading French academic artist during the second half of the 19th century, specializing in scenes depicting present-day Egypt and Turkey. He was extraordinarily influential in his time, training many artists from both Europe and the Middle East. In a new exhibition opening at the Walters in November, Gérôme forms the fascinating focal point of an international network of mid-19th-century painters who were his friends, travel companions, and business associates and who also took the Middle East as their subject matter.
Gérôme and His Circle complements the exhibition Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts. Like Pearls on a String, this exhibition examines the creativity resulting from interactions fostered by collaboration and exchange. It also continues the focus on the story of how the Walters’ collection was formed, begun last October in the installation From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story. Most of French art in Gérôme and His Circle was purchased by William T. Walters.
Curated by Jo Briggs (18th- and 19th-century art) and Amy Landau (Islamic and South Asian art), Gérôme and His Circle explores the movement of people, art, and ideas between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 19th century. Through 17 works from the collection, this exhibition in the museum’s Level 3 manuscripts gallery presents a new angle on the relationships between French dealers and artists and elite Ottoman patrons, whose taste for art depicting the people and places of the Middle East and North Africa was shared by collectors in Europe and United States, including William T. Walters. The two main themes of this exhibition—personal relationships and travel—are illuminated by drawings from Walters’ albums, an impressive Ottoman Turkish helmet owned by Gérôme, and exquisite 19th-century enameled glass inspired by medieval Egyptian examples.