Not On Google Images? It Does Not ExistFriday, April 13, 2012
Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 31 3/4 x 26 in. (80.6 x 66 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2008
Accession Number: 2008.547.1
Metropolitan Museum of Art
From my NY Times Fine Arts Leisure Weekend Arts, Friday April13, 2012 I read in a fine essay by Ken Johnson that the Met has a new Guide (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, which is distributed by Yale University Press, $24.95). It displays in its 449 pages 600 of the museum’s works of arts. Johnson writes of the curious choice of the cover which is the work by by French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. He mentions that the artist has not received much respect from modern scholars. Johnson also criticizes that the cover is cropped so that you cannot see that the Bashi-Bazouk (a Turkish name for certain mercenary soldiers of the time) has the barrel of a musket on his left shoulder and pistols cradled in one arm.
Because of a book in my library which I purchased in 1989, Michael Gill’s Image of the Body I am not a stranger to the excellence of Gérôme. I have used Gill’s book as a reference to many of my photographic classes and in particular the ones that deal with the nude human figure. There is a particular image in the book (all in b+w) which I go back to, over and over because of its impact. It is called The Slave Market and Gill writes:
Among lesser artists the overheated emotions of Romanticism can seem bathetic. Many of the exotic themes reveal a sexual sadism that is only a little less that the general mayhem of Sardanopalus [by Delacroix]. Suitable subjects were easy to find in Egypt and the Near East, A French Painter, who paid many visits there was Jean-Léon Gérôme. A generation younger than Delacroix, the photographic realism of his style and his provocative choice of imagery ensured popular success. The inspection of a potential slave girl entails her being stripped naked under the searching gaze of a number of fully clad men. A prospective purchaser pushes his hand into her mouth to feel her teeth.
It is only recently that through Google Images I was able to find the full colour version of The Slave Market.
For many the new Met Guide will be their only chance to visit the museum’s fine collection. I feel lucky that I have been to the museum three times and that in all three cases I took my time and a few days to see as much as I could. At the same time as I mention the names of my favourite artists and photographers to my students at Focal Point and notice that the names do not register in their memory I understand well that the instant satisfaction of finding The Slave Market in colour on Google Images has a more ominous side. If you do not know the existence of the image (in my case a b+w image in a book) how would you ever know of it?