L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Story of Anacreon - four paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme, circa 1899

Cupid at the Door in a Rainstorm / L'Amour arrive.
(Supposedly, it's cold and rainy, but it doesn't appear at all wet to me; Cupid merely looks like he needs to pee...?)
Young Love's Shivering Limbs the Embers Warm / L'Amour mouillé.
The statue on the pedestal is a figure of Erato, the Muse of love poetry, holding her kithara, or lyre.
Inscribed on the stele - here in red, in the next two paintings in black - is the name of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, portrayed in the wall painting above.
Cupid Runs out the Door / L'Amour s'enfuit.
In this and the previous painting, above the bed is a portrait of a woman, either a painting or, in a niche, a painted bust.
The Poet Dreams of Cupid by the Fire / Le Poète rêve à Cupidon près du feu.
In Anacreon's dream, Cupid taunts the poet with a bust of a woman - perhaps the one whose portrait features in two of the paintings?
The woman's portrait is gone, now, replaced by butterflies - pierced through the heart just like the poet.

Though better known now for his Orientalist paintings, Gérôme remained committed to classical subject matter throughout a long and prolific career. His passion for archaeological research was equal to his love of the theatrical. Already in his twenties he was the acknowledged leader of a group of young painters, the so-called Néo-grecs or Pompëistes, who painted genre scenes of the "antique", often humorous and/or erotic. The four works here demonstrate that, even toward the end of his life, he was still inspired by this subject matter. 

A preparatory sketch for the second painting.
A preparatory photograph for the third.

The paintings illustrate a subject from the third ode of the sixth-century BCE Greek poet Anacreon (translation by Thomas Moore, 1800):


'TWAS noon of night, when round the pole
The sullen Bear is seen to roll;
And mortals, wearied with the day,
Are slumbering all their cares away;
An infant, at that dreary hour,
Came weeping to my silent bower,
And waked me with a piteous prayer,
To save him from the midnight air!
'And who art thou,' I waking cry,
'That bidd'st my blissful visions fly?'
'O gentle sire!' the infant said,
'In pity take me to thy shed;
Nor fear deceit: a lonely child
I wander o'er the gloomy wild.
Chill drops the rain, and not a ray
Illumes the drear and misty way!'
I hear the baby's tale of woe;
I hear the bitter night-winds blow;
And sighing for his piteous fate,
I trimm'd my lamp and oped the gate.

Twas Love! the little wandering sprite,
His pinion sparkled through the night!
I knew him by his bow and dart;
I knew him by my fluttering heart!
I take him in, and fondly raise
The dying embers' cheering blaze;

Press from his dank and clinging hair
The crystals of the freezing air,
And in my hand and bosom hold

His little fingers thrilling cold.
And now the embers' genial ray
Had warm'd his anxious fears away:
'I pray thee,' said the wanton child,
(My bosom trembled as he smiled,)
'I pray thee let me try my bow,
For through the rain
I've wander'd so,
That much I fear the ceaseless shower
Has injured its elastic power.'
The fatal bow the urchin drew;
Swift from the string the arrow flew;

Oh! swift it flew as glancing flame
And to my very soul it came!
'Fare thee well,' I heard him say,
As laughing wild he wing'd away:
'Fare thee well, for now I know
The rain has not relax'd my bow;
It still can send a maddening dart,
As thou shalt own with all thy heart!'


Jean-Léon Gérôme (11 May 1824, Vesoul, Haute-Saône – 10 January 1904, Paris), French Academic painter and sculptor. His paintings were so widely reproduced that during his lifetime he was one the world's most famous living artists. The range of his oeuvre included historical painting, Greek mythology, Orientalism, portraits, and other subjects, and he is considered one of the most important painters from this academic period. He was also a teacher with a long list of students who would later be well-known in their own right.


  1. Dearest S,

    Well, your post sent us on a research trip to discover the delights of Anacreon's lyrical poetry.

    Much as we are intrigued by the many 'secret' messages and references hidden in these pictures, and much as we are drawn into paintings of interiors, we cannot find ourselves loving these works of Gérôme. Perhaps Cupid is not depicted as our imaginations would conceive him or perhaps the whole atmosphere of the painting seems false and out of reach. Whatever, we shall remember this post for the poetry rather than the paintings which we find delightful.

    1. Well, I'm no "fan" of Gérôme either, J-and-L. His oeuvre is, generally, fairly "false", his genre paintings, especially. At any rate, I rarely find paintings of this period, these "Academic" paintings, terribly congenial. But I stumbled across this quartet looking for something else - how I find most of the things I put up here - and knowing I had a post due for two days before Valentine's Day, it struck me as just the thing. I will say, to give the poor, dead fellow some credit, that I rather enjoy the straight-ahead theatrical presentation of the latter three paintings. And I think the palette of the group exquisite; I'm sure it was the - color - that won me over.