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Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 1
Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 2
Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 3
Thumbnail of Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 1
Thumbnail of Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 2
Thumbnail of Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904) The lute player image 3
Lot 16
Jean-Léon Gérôme
(French, 1824-1904)
The lute player
25 October 2023, 15:00 BST
London, New Bond Street

£80,000 - £120,000

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Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)

The lute player
signed and dated 'J.L. GEROME/1858' (centre left)
oil on canvas
41 x 29cm (16 1/8 x 11 7/16in).


Possibly, Gustave Arosa, Paris (by 1858; acquired from the artist).
Georges Muller, Paris (by 1938).
Private collection, Paris.
Private collection, Greece (by 1966, as The Mandolinist); thence by descent.

Possibly, Catalogue de Paris, 1883, unpaginated sheet between pp. 20-21 (as Un Arnaut and belonging to Gustave Arosa, Paris, by 1858).

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.

Jean-Léon Gérôme made his first trip to Egypt in 1856 and works featuring the Arnauts entered his oeuvre almost immediately. Like Bashi-Bazouks, Arnauts were irregulars in the Ottoman army, normally coming from Albania and the Balkans and were deployed across the Empire, including in Cairo. After Egypt gained independence from Turkey, there were evidently many of them in the city who earned a living by various jobs: as guards, animal keepers, and models for foreign painters.

The present work is a remarkably direct and engaging portrait, there is no story behind the scene which represents a purely ethnographic portrait and is a brilliant example of Gérôme's attention to detail in this genre. The Arnauts are instantly recognisable by their white pleated skirts to which Gérôme pays close attention here. The expert handling of the multitudinous pleats sees them fall naturally over the figure's folded legs, the bright white of the fabric becomes a source of light in the composition, the contract between light and shadow being exquisitely portrayed. Similar attention is paid to the red silk sleeves and the deep, warm colours of the headdress which echo the bronzed skin of the figure's bare chest and face. These fabrics are a prominent source of colour in composition, bringing the figure out of the background and emphasising the importance Gérôme places on the figure.

Gérôme depicted Arnauts in all types of setting, relaxing and smoking, playing music and dancing, going about their duties, and enjoying off-duty. Here however, the figure is portrayed in a modest, plain interior, with just subtle changes in tone giving shape to the room. The focus is exclusively on the confident, assertive pose. He is accompanied with the basic accoutrement which may be expected of a soldier, an instrument, pipe and rifle. Gérôme still gives due attention to the objects, delicately painting the silver butt of the pistol, the glinting brass of the hookah and the blue highlights of the lute. The result of Gérôme's loving attention to detail and masterful handling is a powerful yet intimate portrait of a subject which, in 1858, he was just becoming familiar with.

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