Exploring Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Exotic Art
slave auctions, harems, hookahs
Jean-Léon Gérôme is not a name I knew.
Not before a few years ago.
I’m no art critic. Art is not a subject where I’m inherently knowledgeable.
I was a science guy.
I’m the only person to ever graduate from a certain college prep school without a single art class.
Art was a prerequisite for graduation. Not just a semester, or two. The requirement was two full years of art classes.
I was inherently strong in the natural sciences. A perfect ACT score on that subject.
So the art requirement was waived. Not at my request. I wanted the art classes.
The school, however, wanted me taking science.
Harem Pool by Jean-Léon Gérôme
art of the odalisque
A gentleman named Tanos, a well-known figure in the BDSM community, initially turned me onto Gérôme.
I don’t know him personally. Tanos hails from across the pond in England. But, going back for 20 years, he’s developed websites on some serious BDSM related topics.
I’ve read his writing on a concept called ‘Internal Enslavement‘. Ideas there influenced my own thinking about M/s relationships.
He also has a serious interest in odalisques.
Perhaps you don’t know what an odalisque is? Neither did I before I first ran across an entire website centered around the concept.
On Odalisques.com, Tanos says:
This site explores the imagined world of the Near East, especially of Ottoman Turkey and Egypt, created by mostly western painters and writers and centered on the figure of the odalisque – a female slave in a harem, trained to serve her Master’s pleasure, and assigned to sexual rather than domestic duties. Rather than a faithful record of these Near Eastern cultures, it was a deep and penetrating reflection of often unacknowledged desires in Western audiences connecting sex, power and sensual pleasures.
This Odalisquian world has many elements which we would now identify with BDSM, especially D/s, M/s or O&P relationships, and this appreciation of Odalisquian imagery lives on within the modern BDSM scene.
I really enjoy the fantasy. I also have a great appreciation of odalisquian imagery.
Obviously then, it was on Tanos’ site devoted to female harem slaves that I discovered the art of Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Selling Slaves in Rome by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Jean-Léon Gérôme the man
I’m told that Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor who lived from 1824 until 1904.
Born in Vesoul, a modest size town in eastern France, not far from the Swiss and German borders. He died in Paris.
Jean-Léon was a very prominent figure in the art movement known as academicism.
I could try and explain what that means, but folks who have had an art appreciation course already know better than myself.
From my research, I know that a vase he painted was offered to Prince Albert by Emperor Napoleon III.
I assume that sort of gift not only honors the recipient, but also the artist.
The vase hasn’t been discarded by any means. It’s now a part of the Royal Collection at St. James’s Palace in London.
I also understand that Jean-Léon Gérôme’s influence extended far beyond his own work.
A good number of students, from his time teaching at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, rose to prominence on their own merits.
In 1856, Gérôme visited Egypt for the first time. This trip became a major influence.
Hereafter, one of the important artistic styles he adopted was Orientalism.
Individuals with a simple art appreciation course under their belts can probably explain that style better than I.
It’s said, at least in some art circles, that Jean-Léon Gérôme’s greatest works are from his Orientalist period.
That’s also the area where Tanos’ interests seem to intersect with the artist’s.
Gérôme created many paintings that I most of them displayed here.
While not all of them had an Eastern influence, I would tend to agree about the period of his greatest creations – Orientalism.
To my eye, his best erotic masterpieces are depictions of harems.
I have to add, I’m also quite struck by his portraits of slave girls on the auction block.
As I’ve already pointed out, I’m no art critic. I have no formal training in understanding or appreciating art.
I’m just a man who knows what he likes.
I get the feeling that Mr. Gérôme certainly knew what he liked too.
Allumeuse de Narghilé (The Teaser of the Narghile) by Jean-Léon Gérôme
do not misunderstand
For folks who might be reading this that don’t already understand BDSM.
Or harem fantasies.
Or, who are perhaps horrified that an individual like myself might enjoy the spectacle of a slave auction?
It can’t be stressed strongly enough that everything I do is 100%, without question, totally consensual.
I only do what I do with the willing.
I also cannot stress this point strongly enough — I find no excitement in the specter of real life human trafficking.
It’s difficult for me to watch television shows, or movies, that include women being trafficked as sex slaves.
Those kinds of themes upset my delicate sensibilities.
The mere thought is absolutely abhorrent to me.
Slave Market (or For Sale) by Jean-Léon Gérôme
The Serpent Charmer by Jean-Léon Gérôme
When you draw, form is the important thing. But in painting the first thing is to look for the general impression of color … Always paint a direct sketch from nature every day.Jean-Léon Gérôme
it’s fantasy (a good one)
On the other hand …
The fantasy of having a slave auction involving consensual slaves who are willingly put on the auction block – that’s hot!
Under those conditions …
Don’t believe me?
Ask Laura Antoniou.
Laura’s Marketplace series of books is based entirely on the fantasy of slaves being trained for service.
Having dreamed of willingly, even enthusiastically, puting themselves on the auction block.
In the Marketplace, slaves are valued quite highly.
But their terms of service are not unlike a strict business contract.
Albeit, a contract with corporal, rather than corporate, punishment.
To my mind, Antoniou is by far the most successful BDSM author of my generation.
By success, I mean greatness.
In the end, however, it’s all a fantasy.
An excellent one.
But, just a fantasy.
Moorish Bath by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Jean-Léon Gérôme – kinkster?
For reasons already explained, I can’t speak intelligently about Gérôme in terms of art criticism.
Understanding and analyzing fine art isn’t part of my personal skill set.
I am who I am.
My knowledge is concentrated around the interests I’ve decided to pursue.
But I do know kink. I know it well.
I understand people with a kinky bent.
Folks with fetishes. Perversions.
In Jean-Léon Gérôme I sense a kindred spirit.
Jean-Léon certainly had a great appreciation for the feminine form.
His portrayals of women are beautiful. Sometimes stunning.
an artist’s fetishes
I get the feeling Gérôme has more than a little fetish for bathing women.
That particular subject is revisited time and again in his work.
How advantageous must it have been to be a renowned artist?
“Hello, my name is Jean-Léon Gérôme. Yes, the celebrated artist.”
“I need access to your harems, and private baths, so that I might record their majesty for posterity … “
Obviously, something like that worked for Jean-Léon. He accessed locations entirely forbidden to most men.
Gérôme’s also repeatedly chooses slave auction themes for his paintings. Those subjects cross multiple cultures and eras.
With that in mind, it’s not hard for me to believe Jean-Léon had some sort of slave auction fantasy at work.
Pygmalion and seraglios
There is no escaping Jean-Léon Gérôme’s love of the harem as subject matter for his paintings.
Called the seraglio, serail, or zenana in some cultures; harems are a specialized form of women’s quarters.
Considered a sacred inviolable place, harems house a man’s concubines (and wives) away from the gaze and desires of other men.
As I said before, I will always be astounded at Jean-Léon’s continual ability to access such private areas for his work.
It must be a great honor to be invited for a glimpse of an empty harem bath, let alone to be allowed to stay and paint.
For men, having a harem, or some sort of facsimile, is a relatively common fantasy.
It’s also one of those things that are easier said than done.
Even if it were possible to build a harem in this modern day; it would be a rare man with the money, power, and appetites necessary to keep it in place.
Still, it’s another nice fantasy. And, it’s one I have to believe I share with Jean-Léon.
statues come to life
Here was an individual who worked as both a painter and a sculptor. In combining his love for both mediums, Gérôme returned time and time again to a classic tale from mythology.
It’s a story with some serious legs.
Dating back to Greek mythology, told most famously in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it’s been portrayed in a variety of forms.
For instance, Disney’s Pinocchio is little more than a bowdlerized and embellished retelling of Pygmalion.
Disney couldn’t have a sculptor feeling romantic love for his work in a G-rated movie for kids. (We were thankfully spared that kind of romance for an inanimate object until Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin.)
So, Pygmalion morphed into Mister Geppetto. Romantic love for a statue was switched off in favor of fatherly love for a puppet.
It’s a sweet story either way. And it’s a story that clearly fascinated Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Was he fascinated to the point of fetishizing statues? Perhaps his dream was a harem of statues coming to life?
Those questions will likely remain forever unanswered.
narghiles and hookahs oh my
Jean-Léon was a 19th-century man with more than enough fetishes to flesh out a FetLife profile.
With as many seeming fetish interests as I’ve already covered, I can see one more potential kinky interest for our friend, Jean-Léon Gérôme.
It certainly could be argued, from the frequent appearance of hookahs in his paintings, that the renowned French artist may have had a touch of a smoking fetish.
Granted, narghiles are relatively common in a good number of Orientalist paintings.
Certainly, the appearance of a hookah immediately identifies a painting as portraying a scene from the East.
Perhaps Gérôme was intrigued by the culture surrounding drugs like hashish?
Perhaps he was enthralled with seeing beautiful harem ladies smoking?
I’ll never know for sure. But, it’s just one more potential kink to add to Jean-Léon’s list.
The Slave For Sale by Jean-Léon Gérôme
As a very unorthodox academic painter, Gérôme knew how to represent history as a dramatic spectacle and, by creating particularly convincing images, could make the spectator an eyewitness to events ranging from Classical antiquity to his own times.Musée d'Orsay
I have to think, that in today’s day and age, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s primary profession would be fetish photography.
Of course, that’s pure supposition.
But, it seems to be a fairly well-educated guess.
During his lifetime, Gérôme expressed admiration for, and great confidence in, the photographic medium.
Although it was in relative infancy at the end of Jean-Léon’s life, he envisioned photography completely overtaking his style of realistic painting.
He was quite correct on that point.
It would be perfectly natural for a man of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s talents to adopt the photographic arts.
Fetish photography would well suit his artistic eye.
And, it would give him potential access to the secret places that exist in the modern world.
After all, the man would have to fulfill all those fetishes somehow.
So, I see a modern day Jean-Léon Gérôme as something like a supercharged Eric Kroll.
However, I’m not sure that working exclusively thru the lens of a camera would be enough to satisfy a man like Gérôme.
A man with so many talents.
He would need more.
I think a good secondary avocation, for a modern day Jean-Léon, would be producing exquisite sculptures of exotic subjects.
Some things never change …