Medium: Oil On Canvas, unlined
Size: 22.8 x 30.8 cm
Estate of the artist; Mme Renault, daughter of the artist and heir to the Morot-Gérôme family; Private collection, Paris.
This sketch has been discussed in written and oral communications with Professor Gerald Ackerman though he will not be supplementing his catalogue raisonné further.
Related works: Le General Bonaparte au Caire, 1863, oil on canvas 59 x 102.7 cm, Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, San Simeon, California (Ackermann no. 173)
Gérôme made his first visit Egypt in preparation for the Salon of 1857, in which his earliest Egyptian genre paintings were exhibited. The critic Gautier saw in them ‘a true and fresh view of the Near East’. The variety of subjects and themes he presented astonished the Parisian audience and marked the start of the artist’s career as an Orientalist or peintre ethnographique.
At the end of 1861, Gérôme planned an eight-month visit to Egypt and the Near East, but his plans were endangered by a duel. An exchange of violent words with a certain Mr. Stevens (an art dealer), possibly over a woman, led to the challenge. Gérôme had never dueled before unlike his experienced opponent and was probably saved by his doctor’s last minute advice to stand sideways. Gérôme missed his target but the challenger’s bullet struck the artist’s right wrist and then lodged in his shoulder. Not to be deterred, however, Gérôme set off for Egypt with his arm still in a sling.
These two plein air oil sketches were almost certainly done on this second trip to North Africa and the Near East. They each retain the minuscule holes at the corners where the artist pinned the un-stretched canvas to his travel easel; Gérôme used canvas, which he found more durable than the paper he had employed on his earlier trip. On the same journey, Gérôme visited Judea and Holy Places, where he painted the view of the wailing wall in Jerusalem that was originally the left panel of this series. In the years to come, Gérôme would return frequently to the plein air sketches he had painted whilst travelling through the Near East and North Africa. The hilltop view looking over Cairo would become the artist’s dramatic portrayal of the young Napoleon Bonaparte surveying his first great conquest (see related works) while Gérôme’s sketch of the wailing wall would be transformed into le Mur de Salomon (1869, 92 x 73 cm, Private Collection), populated by praying figures, of which he also painted a vertical sketch (25 x 18 cm).