Pool in a harem, Jean-Leon Gerome - Analysis and Description Painting
Pool in a harem - Jean-Leon Gerome. Canvas, oil. 73.5 x 62 cm
In 1875, the picture titled "Pool in the Harem" was ordered by the Russian Emperor Alexander III, who was known as a true connoisseur of painting and also as a collector of various artworks, to Gerome.
The frequent travels of the artist around the Middle East allowed to accurately recreate scenes depicting the life of the Muslim world.
The picture shows a Turkish bath in a harem. Sunlight penetrated through small crevices in the ceiling. There are two women looking at the servant who is serving them hookahs. One of the ladies is sitting on a varicolored national carpet, while the other is reclining on the step of the hammam. In the background, one can observe more female figures near the pool.
The subject plot might seem quite banal for a lover of gladiator fights and philosophical judgments, but Gerome's favorite topic of nude female bodies contradicted the Muslim traditions. The accuracy of the master’s depicting of all the components of the Turkish bath was such that the thought involuntarily arises that he did see it with his own eyes.
However, that was not possible, as the harem was jealously guarded from any prying eyes, and especially from those of the European men. The harem was the Sultan’s pride. He was continually replenished with new concubines brought from all over the planet. And even with all due respect to Gerome’s work, he would hardly have been permitted to write from nature in the women's bath. And this is where the extraordinary imagination of the great master once again recreated the real motive.
The picture was moved to the Hermitage and quietly stayed there for a good hundred years, being of no particular value to anyone until an unknown “connoisseur” of rarities took it out of the museum, having tracklessly disappeared for five years. Eventually, everyone learned about the real cost of the canvas, which equaled one million dollars.
Either deeply repenting of their deed or being unable to sell the historically valuable and seriously damaged painting, the unfortunate connoisseur (or his sympathizers) decided to return it back. The canvas was damaged as a result of improper storage and handling, so it took four years to restore. Today, it is again exhibited in one of the Hermitage halls.