In Focus

Jean-Léon Gérôme's Omphale

Jean-Léon Gérôme was among the most famous and most reproduced artists during the second half of the 19th century. His history paintings, which focused on themes of antiquity, European history, or orientalism, were admired by large crowds every year at the Salon. Gérôme married the daughter of the Paris dealer and art publisher Adolphe Goupil, who established a successful branch of his gallery in New York in 1846. Through his father-in-law, and thanks to the sales of reproductive prints, Gérôme achieved great renown in France and the United States, but after his death, in the climate of budding modernism, his fame vanished. It was not until the early 21st century that his influence on other artists was revealed, along with his early knowledge and use of photography and the impact of his vision on the early history of film. Gérôme's sculptures—with his use of polychromy, mixing realism and the ideal—are now considered among his most fascinating works.

In late Greek mythology, Omphale, queen of Lydia, was the wife of Hercules. Before marrying her, Hercules was her slave, and in an ironic twist that the ancients loved, she obliged him to give her the famous lion skin and the club while wearing women's clothes. In this drawing, Omphale is wearing Hercules's lion skin on her head, leaning on the club placed under her armpit. The entire composition is taken from the famous antique marble know as the Farnese Hercules. This inspiration can be considered as a visual pun: Omphale fooled Hercules and forced him to dress as a woman while she wore his attributes, here even borrowing his most famous pose.

Adapted from

Olivier Meslay, in Mind's Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne, eds. Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan (Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2014) 88.