Sotheby’s European Art, May 24th 2017


Sotheby’s New York on York Avenue holds its annual auction of miscellaneous “European art” on Wednesday May 24th. Items include works from “the most celebrated artists of the era, including William Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Henri Gervex.” Era appears to be 19th century.

Gérôme, who did this fighting-cock piece in 1846, is thus described on the website for the Musée D’Orsay:

Naked Greeks with Chickens

In the “Neo-Grec” style, characterised by a taste for meticulous finish, pale colours and smooth brushwork, Gérôme portrays a couple of near-naked adolescents at the foot of a fountain. Their youthfulness contrasts with the battered profile of the Sphinx in the background. The same opposition is found between the luxuriant vegetation and the dead branches on the ground, and in the fight between the two roosters, one of which is doomed to die.

In the chorus of praise for the work, few commentators noticed the artist’s disillusioned attitude. Hardly anyone but Baudelaire criticised the canvas, calling Gérôme the leader of the “meticulous school”, and finding him weak and artificial. The public preferred the opinion of Théophile Gautier who saw in The Cock Fight “wonders of drawing, action and colour”. At the age of twenty-three, Gérôme therefore made a brilliant entry into the art world and thereafter pursued the official career he had planned for himself, punctuated with honours and rewards.

Whichever, it appears the Musée D’Orsay is getting rid of it, and now’s your chance to hang it over your mantlepiece.

Author: Margot Darby

Artist, wit & raconteuse Margot Darby is known the world over.