MEMNON, EL QUE YA NO HABLA
Jean-Léon Gérôme (French painter and sculptor) 1824 - 1904The Colossus of Memnon, 1857oil on canvas25 1/2 x 32 in. (64.8 x 81.3 cm.)signed J.L. GEROME and dated MDCCCLVII (lower center)
The Colossi of Memnon have stood guard at the ancient necropolis of Thebes since 1350 BC. Standing at a towering height of 18 meters, they were intentionally imposing and would have made a powerful impression on any visitor. Gérôme was known to have painted the subject a number of times, including a view from the side in The Colossi of Thebes, Memnon and Sesostris (1856, Musée Georges Garrett de Vesoul), Caravan Passing the Colossi of Memnon, Thebes (1857. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes), and the oil sketch of the present view, Memnon and Sesostris (fig. 1, 1856, private collection). The present work, which depicts camels resting beside the colossus of Memnon, lacks the third of the original composition recorded in the Gérôme Paris Photographs at the Cabinet d'Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (vol. IV, no. 10) and exhibited at the Salon of 1857 as Memnon et Sésostris. As the placement of the signature and all other details correspond exactly with the original photograph, it is likely that the present picture is a result of the former having been cut down (ommitting the portion with a view of the colossus of Sesostris); alternatively, this might be a second version of the wider composition.
This work was painted after Gérôme's first ambitious and long anticipated visit to Egypt in 1856, a journey which started, as Gérôme himself describes, "with friends, being one of five - all of us with little money and abundant spirits! ... We rented a sailboat and stayed for four months on the Nile, hunting, painting and fishing, from Damietta to Philae... We returned to Cairo, where we passed four months more in a house in old Cairo, which Sulieman Pasha rented to us" (as quoted in Ackerman, 1986, p. 44)
Ackerman writes that in the Salon of 1857 in Paris "several landscapes drawn from the experinces of this trip were exhibited. The vigor of the drawing, the strength of the touch, and lack of refinement makes it seem almost as if the picture were painted on the spot or on the houseboat where the painter maintained a studio. The brightness of the light makes it seem painted in immediate reaction to the blinding light of Egypt, without aesthetic monitoring. Of all Gérôme's Egyptian pictures, only a few have the feeling - like this one - of having been painted on location" (Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1972-73, exh. cat., p. 36).
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