The Hoop Dancer, ca. 1890
H. 9 1/4 in. x W. 4 1/2 in. x L. 4 1/2 in.
Gérôme had his first success as a painter
at the Salon of 1847. Six years earlier, he had left
his native city of Vesoul to study in Paris, first with
Paul Delaroche, then with Charles Gleyre. From then on,
he was a success, receiving government commissions and
honors, such as the Legion of Honor. He became a member
of the Institut de France, a professor at the École
des Beaux-Arts, a visitor at the court of the Empress,
the husband of a very rich woman, a popular teacher,
and a very famous painter.
In 1878, at the age of fifty-four, he made another professional change. He sent
a large bronze group, The Gladiators, to the Exposition Universelle, and it won
a Medal of Honor. From then on, his time was spent on sculpture: he took advice
and lessons from his old friend, Emmanuel Fremiet (1824–1910). In fact,
as late as 1901, he listed himself in the sculpture section of the Salon catalogue
as "student of M. Fremiet.''
Like most French sculptors of his time, Gérôme did his modeling
in plaster. He made his plasters life-size, working close to the model so that
he could compare and measure both the model and the plaster. Gérôme
was so proud of his accuracy that he often had the plaster and the model photographed
together so that their similarity could be marveled at. He enjoyed experimenting
in ways to enhance his media: tinting his marbles to make them lifelike, mixing
materials such as bronze, marble, and ivory to attain more sumptuous effects
in his small bronzes.
In the Salon of 1890, Gérôme exhibited a most original work, Tanagra,
a tinted marble nude meant to be the Tyche, or Fortune, of the ancient Greek
city. Tanagra is seated upright on an excavation mound; at her feet is a pick
axe, and sticking out of the soil of the mound are the heads and feet of statuettes.
On the palm of her extended left hand she holds a small imitation Tanagran figurine,
a hoop dancer. The next year, 1891, Gérôme issued a small bronze
based on the hoop dancer in Tanagra's hand. More than a hundred casts of the
gilt bronze in a smaller size were sold.