In Gerald Ackerman’s catalogue raisonné of Gérôme’s work (1986, revised 2000), the present painting is listed as a “ceiling decoration” and dated “circa 1889”. No documentary evidence is given to substantiate the description and the date.
The painting is dedicated à mon ami Badin. Jules Badin (1843-1919) was a painter in Paris who succeeded his father Pierre-Adolphe Badin († 1877) as director of the Manufactory of Tapestries in Beauvais. Jules Badin saw the firm through rough times. During the 1870/71 war and subsequent Commune, they lost their state patronage as well as a large stock of tapestries in the fires of 1871. Rebuilding Paris, however, led to new commissions, mostly for recreations of 18th century Beauvais tapestries for public buildings. It might have been Jules Badin’s initiative to invite contemporary artists with new designs, because he made a special note of their contributions in his documentation La Manufacture de Tapisseries de Beauvais. Gérôme was a member of a committee, instituted in 1882, to create a prix de Beauvais, and he was one of the artists who supplied the factory with panneaux de faible dimensions (panels of modest dimensions).
In 1887 a screen was produced in Beauvais after a painting by Gérôme, Amor on the Hippogriff. As it often was the case in the studios of Beauvais, a collaborator, Achille Cesbron, executed the ornaments and flowers. A drawing of several sketches on a single sheet, formerly at Shepherd Gallery, provides a lively record of Gérôme’s toying with the subject. In one of the sketches, Amor is seated on a lion (an amusing reference to J. H. Dannecker’s famous Ariadne on the Panther?). In another sketch, Amor holds a bow in his hand and hides behind a mask of tragedy. The mask reappears on a display stand, and eventually Gérôme sketched the subject of the present painting, Amor Holding a Mask. Typically, Gérôme made light of a classical heavy-weight subject: poking his fingers through the mask’s eyes and mouth, Amor stays blithely in control.
The collaboration with Achille Cesbron on the Hippogriff painting for Beauvais explains the empty outlining of the foliage around the central image in the present painting. It was left to Cesbron’s hand to fill the space. As of yet there is no evidence that the present painting was translated into a tapestry for a fire screen.
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a catalogue raisonné, Courbevoie, Paris, 1986, cat. no. 360, ill.
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme: monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Courbevoie, Paris, 2000, cat. no. 360, ill.
Jules Badin, La Manufacture de Tapisseries de Beauvais depuis ses origins jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1909, p. 50. Jean