Monday, April 14, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - The Carpet Merchant (Jean-Léon Gérôme)

Jean-Léon Gérôme is one of the masters of 19th century realism, and I knew one of his paintings would be included in my 40 Days.  It was choosing which one to include that was difficult.  But I knew I had to choose one of his many Orientalist paintings, and the one that impresses me the most is "The Carpet Merchant." 
This painting brings me back to a fond memory of my Holy Land trip when we were in Turkey.  The most beautiful pieces of art in Turkey are without question their handmade rugs and carpets.  We had a chance to visit a rug and carpet merchant in Turkey, and as our group sat around the perimeter of the room, they rolled out all of their rugs on the floor as we watched in awe.  Some of them were particularly beautiful, and all of them were very expensive.  As I look at this painting and see the way that Gérôme has painted the designs of the carpet, It definitely reminds me of the same designs and colors we saw in Turkey.
Many of Gérôme's Orientalist paintings bring me back to that atmosphere that I felt in Turkey and Egypt.  The Orientalist paintings are ones set in Middle Eastern cultures.  I have recently been able to see a few of his pieces at a current exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  There are only about 5 or 6 of his paintings on display, and these are the only ones of his that I have seen in person, but they are quite amazing.  They are also smaller than I expected, which makes them even more astonishing - to think about how he managed to create such sharp, realistic figures with careful attention to detail on an average-sized canvas.
The beautiful thing about Gérôme's realism is that he breaks the barrier between the subject and the viewer.  In so many of his paintings, you can actually feel yourself in the picture as an onlooker of what is going on.  Everything about the picture is convincing.  The figures are convincing, the texture of the carpets is convincing, and the light is convincing.  One of the things I noticed about one of the paintings at the Nelson exhibit, and which is evident in this painting as well, is the way in which Gérôme created depth and atmosphere by muting the colors of the background, and bringing up the intensity of the colors in the figures of the foreground.  It creates a beautiful 3-dimensional effect that makes it such a convincing setting, and we can't even say it looks like a photograph.  It looks too real to be like a photograph.  It looks like life.

The Carpet Merchant
oil on canvas

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