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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

The Cock Fight by Jean-Léon Gérôme

The Cock Fight by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“The Cock Fight” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

The Cock Fight by Jean-Léon Gérôme, also known as “Young Greeks Attending a Cock Fight,” portrays two near-naked adolescents at the foot of a fountain watching the fight between the two roosters. Their youth contrasts with the weathered profile of the Sphinx and the fountain overall. This painting also represents the artist’s first great successes at the age of twenty-three.

This painting has no mythological meaning. It is in the Néo-Greek (Neo-Grec) tradition, which was a Neoclassical revival style of the mid-to-late 19th century that was popularised in architecture, the decorative arts, and in painting. The Néo-Grec vogue mixed elements of growing interest in Ancient Greece and Rome into a richly colorful fantasy, seeking to capture everyday trivialities of ancient Greek life, in a manner of whimsy, grace, and charm, and was often realistic, sensual, and erotic. The Néo-Grec painters were charged with selectively adopting the ancient Greek style, in that they left out noble themes and only focused on trivial daily life, this led to accusations that they were creating art that supported the ideologies of the comfortable middle class.

Gérôme was initially hesitant to exhibit “The Cock Fight,” following his failure to win a national scholarship competition for art students. Still, he was convinced by his teacher to enter it into the 1847 official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Fortunately, it was well-received, and it gained him a third-class medal. The painting also sold, and this encouraged Gérôme to abandoned his dream of winning the Prix de Rome scholarship and took advantage of his sudden success to launch himself as an independent artist.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) was a French painter and sculptor, and his body of work includes historical paintings, Greek Mythology, Orientalism, and portraits in the academic painting tradition.

Academic Art

Academic art is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Academies using the French model formed throughout Europe, and imitated the teachings and styles of the French Académie. From England, with the Royal Academy to Denmark with its Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1754, European society was saturated with academic art by the end of the 19th century.

Did you know?

  • The background in the painting is the Bay of Naples.
  • Gérôme was also successful as a sculptor.
  • When Gérôme died in his private studio in 1904, he was found in front of a portrait of Rembrandt.

The Cock Fight

  • Title:                    The Cock Fight
  • Alternative:         Young Greeks Attending a Cock Fight
  • French:                Un combat de coqs
  • Artist:                  Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Year:                    1846
  • Type:                   Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      143 cm × 204 cm (56 in × 80 in)
  • Museum:            Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Jean-Léon Gérôme

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Reflections

  • Is this subject too trivial? Does art need a deeper meaning?
  • Is this a masterfully Academic work executed work with no real meaning?

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“Every artist was first an amateur.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photo Credit: 1) Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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