Jean-Léon Gérôme. Bashi-Bazouk. Oil on Canvas. 1868–69
When I lived in New York City, I had the opportunity to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On one visit, I discovered this extraordinary painting by the artist Gérôme.
My love of portraiture, beautiful skin tones, and sumptuous costume naturally drew me to this arresting painting.
Gérôme’s work grew out of Romanticism, and the subject matter, an exotic mercenary hired by the Ottoman Empire to mercilessly terrorize and plunder, shows the kinship with that movement. The artist made a twelve week sojourn to Egypt and Asia Minor, however no known studies of the subject exist. Instead, art historians believe he hired a model upon his return to France and dressed him in garments and accessories he had acquired abroad.
At a time when the Impressionists were studying the effects of light and dissolving form, Gérôme was dedicated to unflinching naturalism. This painting inspires me through Gérôme’s stunning use of color and sensitive observation. Take a look at the note of peach on the nostril and earlobe which unify the skin tone and jacket. Consider the warm grey background and how it complements the jacket. I love the Baroque lighting, too. The artist masterfully created an air of mystery and exotic beauty that I could look at without limit!