OIL PAINTING: Selling Slaves in Rome, 1886
The partnership of Gerome and the Art Reproductions Gallery Goupil is the focus of a well-produced, scholarly exhibition now at the Dahesh Museum, a small, private institution unique in New York for its dedication to resurrecting the reputations and advancing the study of premodern academic artists. The exhibition was organized by the Dahesh, the Musee Goupil in Bordeaux and the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh. Fascinating as an informative report on a largely forgotten chapter in the history of art and commerce, the exhibition also invites broader speculation about art and the modern mass audience.
Some 20 paintings represent the various pictorial genres that Gerome practiced. They include ''The Cockfight,'' a semi-erotic painting in the neo-Classical style showing a naked youth and maiden with a pair of squabbling roosters, which first made Gerome's reputation. There are history paintings, like ''Bonaparte at Cairo,'' and the so-called Orientalist paintings of Middle Eastern subjects. These often involve sexy women, as in the sumptuous, enamellike ''Moorish Bath,'' in which a half-naked black woman prepares to douse a totally naked white woman, or ''Selling Slaves in Rome''
The paintings by themselves would make a fine show, but each is accompanied by at least one -- and in many cases numerous -- reproductions. There are more than 40 in all, and the point is to show how paintings served the trade in reproductions. How many different kinds of reproductions Goupil made of a particular painting of Gerome depended on the popularity of the painting.