In sum: the Getty has delivered a sprawling and multifaceted show covering the work of an artist whose output was likewise sprawling and multifaceted. It should lay forever to rest the notion that Gérôme was at best an illustrateur whose work is fit only to adorn the pages of high school Latin texts. Rather, we have been given an artist deeply implicated (both for good and ill) in many of the most important cultural currents and cross-currents of his time: a superb and self- conscious technician whose best work, if not Postmodern in a narrow sense, demonstrates an approach that, especially in the arena of history painting, challenges his own time’s most deeply held and cherished assumptions. At once a reactionary and a revolutionary, he was never quite able to bring Galatea to life, never quite able to give up his seat on the Areopagus. But he might well have seen his own skill and experience reflected in the face of The Black Bard; while his work, thanks to the reproductive efforts of Goupil & Cie, could be literally collected as an entire set.
Glenn Harcourt received a PhD in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley. He currently live and works in Los Angeles.