Note: Gérôme's perfectionism in pursuit of beauty
("jamais de la violence" - no violence ever) yielded
to an artistic instinct of a different kind when he
left the present painting unfinished. Painted five
years after the large memorial retrospective of
Manet's work at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the present painting seems perfect as it is.
The beautiful blues and grays, framing the
dark head of the hunter, are not quite "tied
together" as in a typical finished Gérôme painting,
and therefore much more vibrant. The contrast of
the youth's smooth legs (finished) to the sketchy
outlines of the accompanying figure's body serves
as an enhancement to the modern eye. The
sketchy figures in the background appear "out of
focus", forcing the eye to concentrate on the
magic procession in the foreground.
Gérôme, defending his principles of truth and
nature to the end, was nevertheless not untouched
by the effects of Symbolism in the 1880's. Several
of his paintings depict lions as personifications of
majesty, and titles like Solitude or Beatitude for
images of lions are highly suggestive. In the present painting, one is grateful that the might of the
lion and the elegance of the hunter are merely
indicated, and that the intensity of the scene is
not cluttered with details.
Fanny Hering, who saw the painting in Gérôme's
studio, wrote that "the background never satisfied
him". If this concern prevented Gérôme from finishing this painting, it served him very well indeed.
It is recorded by George Moore that Gérôme
was quite startled when he saw Edgar Degas'
painting Young Spartans (1860, reworked until
1880, unfinished) which bears quite an astonishing
resemblance to Gérôme's Lion Hunt. Degas' sarcastic remark, "I suppose it is not quite Turkish
enough for you, Gérôme?" explains in fact why the
two paintings are so similar. The empty landscape
without local landmarks, the lack of ethnical or
historical detail, the scale and positioning of the
figures in the landscape (in both paintings with a
small group in the background) are certainly "not
Turkish". Only the color differs vastly. Gérôme's
palette is closer to the grey-blues of Puvis de
Chavannes, e.g. in Vision of Antiquity (1887-90).