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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Despite uncovering over 700 paintings and 70 sculptures from the career of Jean-Léon Gérôme, art researchers have been unable to find many drawings attributed to the artist. Most would have been lost or mislaid during his own lifetime.

During the 19th century there was not a great effort to preserve and protect one's sketches, certainly not to the same degree as there would be for paintings and sculptures. Some drawings would be passed around a studio in order to help tutor students on technique. Others would be produced as part of a sketchbook before later being separated into individuals pages and re-ordered manually. This would inevitably lead to confusion around the correct attribution as well as leaving these artworks much more vulnerable to wear and tear. This situation with Gerome's drawings is similar to many famous names previous to his career, going all the way back to the early stages of the Italian Renaissance.

The drawings that do remain, and that have confidently been attributed to the artist, are predominantly figurative portraits in pencil or chalk that were used as preparation for a later painting. Typically, Gerome would focus on an individual element of a larger composition in each individual drawing and then put several pieces together to create the final painting. Some elements that concerned him would receive particular attention, whilst other areas of a planned painting may not need any experimentation or preparation. Figurative art is a particularly difficult skill to master, with any mistakes being obvious even to the most untrained eye - Gerome would only achieve success through considerable amounts of practice and planning, and he was well aware of this.

Jean-Léon Gérôme was intially taught art by Claude Basil Cariage who focused most on drawing, even though he himself was first and foremost a painter. Some early promise shown in this medium encouraged others to introduce him to sculpture soon after, but drawing would remain the basis to all of his work from then onwards. At the age of just 14, Gerome would receive his first artistic award, and it was given purely on the basis of his sketch work with portraiture, some of which also caught the admiration of Paul Delaroche at around the same time. Gerome was starting to make waves already and just needed to add the technical skills of painting and sculpture in order to complete his development.

Delacroche and Gerome teamed up for a number of years and even travelled to Italy for an extended period during which they would study photography as well as the Middle East for the first time. They returned to Paris at which point Gerome received further training in his technical skills as a draughtsman, this time from Swiss artist Charles Gleyre. The three of them spent time together in Delaroche's studio and would learn plenty from being around each other in a creative and open environment. Gerome would then continue his travels abroad and further establish his reputation across the western world.

Jean-Leon Gerome Drawings