PARIS.- Sotheby's next sale in Paris of 19th Century Paintings & Drawings, on June 25, features a sculptural masterpiece by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904): the original plaster model for Corinthia, consigned by Gérôme's descendants. The definitive marble version, unfinished when Gérôme died, was completed by his assistant Emile Décorchement and shown at the Salon of 1904.
Gérôme was one of the few artists with equal mastery of painting and sculpture, sometimes combining the two within individual works. He also took figures from his paintings and recreated them in marble or bronze, or portrayed himself in a painting busy sculpting marble in his studio, as in Working in Marble (1890), which shows him sculpting Tanagra from a live model.
Gérôme was above all a virtuoso of coloured sculpture, as shown by his 1895 bust of Sarah Bernhardt. Taking his lead from Greek antiquity, he breathed life into sculpture by painting marble. I first looked to coloured marble, as I have always been put off by the coldness of statues.
With her perfectly modelled body and delicate flesh colour underlining her nudity, Corinthia creates the impression of a living person. Her eyes, with mascara underlining their almond shape, gaze into the distance; her lips are highlighted with red; she is sitting cross-legged on top of a Corinthian capital and marble column (now lost).
As the son of a goldsmith, Gérôme appreciated precious materials and paid special attention to the young courtisan's opulent jewellery. Doubtless taking inspiration from the classical models he saw on his travels to Syria and Turkey, Gérôme carefully worked each item of jewellery in wax, with highlights in coloured paint.
This plaster sculpture of exceptional quality, adorned with elements in wax, represents a perfect example of Gérôme's work, blending realism with Art Nouveau decorative inspiration, and fully illustrating his talent as a sculptor.
Corinthia is a perfect illustration of the femme fatale of the Symbolists movement. She looks strikingly modern and realistic. In his quest for new subjects, Gérôme was influenced by the contemporary neo-Greek movement advocated by Théophile Gautier. Like Tanagra, which Gérôme showed at the Salon of 1890, Corinthia recalls the spectacular discoveries made in excavations in 1896. Corinth, on the Ionian Sea, was one of the most prosperous cities of ancient Greece: a veritable hot-spot without taboo. The proverb inscribed on the column, Non licet omnibus adire Corinthum (Not everyone can afford Corinth), recalls that the exotic pleasures of CCorinth were not within reach of every purse.
The final marble version of Corinthia displays an exuberant variety of materials and colours: the jewellery, in bronze, silver, gold and enamel, stands out from the white marble; the hair, eyes and mouth are painted, and the figure is perched on a bronze capital atop a green marble column. Two marble versions, slightly larger than the plaster model (haut. 68 cm), are known today. One, thought to be the version exhibited at the Salon of 1904, was shown at Galerie Tanagra in 1974, then belonged to the Nourhan Manoukian Collection before being sold at Drouot Montaigne in 1996; it is now in private hands. The second version belongs to a private American collection, and is thought to have been kept in the Los Angeles County Museum. Corinthia is sometimes confused with Gérôme's Seated Woman (c.1890/95), in coloured marble, now in the Detroit -law, the painter a woman sitting cross-legged right elbow posed evoking Gérôme's painting Odalisque. It is also appeared in a painting by Gérôme (now lost) called My Portrait, showing the artist carving the model from the marble. G. Ackerman lists six versions in gilt or silvered bronze (haut. 73cm), mainly cast by Siot, including a gilt-bronze figure formerly in the collection of Géraldine Rockefeller Dodge (sale at Sotheby's New York, 20 February 1976) and now in the Stuart Pivar Collection, New York. Another gilt-bronze version was Our rare original plaster, a masterpiece of polychrome sculpture, constitutes Gérôme's artistic testament: as a Symbolist femme fatale: Corinthia fleshes out the artist's principal preoccupations, combining his taste for Antiquity and fascination with the female nude.
Sothebys are the only firm to organize specialist sales of European Sculpture & Objets dArt and are leaders in the field, generating record prices in London, Paris and New York. An important pair of onyx and bronze Orientalist sculptures by Charles Henri Joseph Cordier (1827-1905), Water Bearers, sold well over estimate for £573,500 (717,000) in 1998. Max Klinger's silver sculpture Galatea fetched a record £245,000 (306,900) in 2001, against an estimate of £8,000-12,000. Carrier Belleuse's lifesize 1866 marble Angélique fetched £377,600 (472,000) in 2005.
The record price in Paris stands at 314,400, posted by a bronze and gilt-bronze chandelier by Gérôme's contemporary Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910). Significant prices for Gérôme's work include £102,000 (127,500) for his plaster bust of Sarah Bernhardt, against an estimate of £30,000-50,000; and a quadruple-estimate £131,200 (164,000) for his bronze Bonaparte Entering Cairo. In June 2007, Gérôme's ivory and bronze Dancer with Apple sold for £84,000 (105,000) in London.