Jean–Léon Gérôme (French, 1824–1904)
Oil on canvas; 31 3/4 x 6 in. (80.6 x 66 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2008 (2008.547.1)
This arresting picture was made after Jean-Léon Gérôme returned to Paris from a twelve-week expedition across the Near East in early 1868. Enjoying fame, prestigious clients, membership in the Institut de France, and a lucrative relationship with the art publisher Goupil (his father-in-law), Gérôme was at the height of his career when he dressed a model in his studio with the exotic textiles he had acquired in the Levant. Calling the picture Bashi-Bazouk ("headless" in Turkish), he evoked the ferocious, lawless, and unpaid soldiers who fought for plunder—although it is difficult to imagine this beautiful man charging into battle wearing such an exquisite silk tunic. Famous for rendering textures with the subtlety of the best seventeenth-century Dutch genre painters, Gérôme spared no effort in this tour de force, endowing the model with a dignity not typical of his orientalist fantasies.
In 1884, Henry Cox, who owned the painting at the time, lent it to the landmark exhibition of modern French painting held to raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. A reviewer noted that "there is a great deal of character and dramatic power in the picture, and although not large it is an admirable example of the famous artist."