There was a trend during those days among art lovers of Europe, of collecting paintings of exotic locations. People would view these unfamiliar scenes with awe, becoming lost in a world of mystery and enchantment. The artist understood this trend very well and made the most of his foreign travels to observe and make sketches of exotic scenes in order to reproduce many of the sights he had scenes. His paintings have a haunting quality, drawing in the viewer and making him or her want to learn more about what they’re viewing.
This painting is of the interior of a mosque in one of the areas in which the artist has travelled. It has an almost photographic quality. Given the reluctance of the followers of the Islamic faith to have images made, one feels rather curious as to how the artist was able to get away with painting this picture. But when one remembers that he could jot down sketches and reproduce them in a painting later, it makes sense. One feels a sense of looking through a window at the mosque interior scene. We are standing away from that scene, along with the artist and looking through a window which he has thrown open for us.
About a dozen men are standing around, some at prayer and some at ease while being reverential. The painting is currently on view in the Memorial Art Gallery of Rochester University, a private university in New York. It was a gift from Mr and Mrs F. Harper Sibley.
A 19th-century painter and sculptor,Jean-Léon Gérôme belonged to what is now known as the academic school of painting. He actually taught art to students for many years. It is said that he was harsh and critical of his students’ work, but he saw this as necessary to prepare them for the trials that lay ahead, as art critics can be harsh on artists who dream of fame and glory. By the time Jean-Léon Gérôme died in 1904, his style was considered old-fashioned. But he left behind a body of work which fascinates in the 21st century. His legacy lives on.