70.2 by 54.6 cm.
One of Gérôme’s most penetrating psychological studies, this posthumous portrait of the Greek rebel leader Marcus Botsaris numbers among his most compelling Orientalist works.
ProvenanceGoupil to Wallis & Son, London, March 12, 1874, as Botzaris
Sir William Henry Houldsworth (1834-1917), Lancashire, England
Sale: Christie’s, London, May 23, 1891, lot 54, as Botzaris (Albanian Patriot)
James Duncan (1834-1905), Glasgow
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London and New York
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, November 14, 1898, as Botzaris (Albanian Patriot), no. 8495
Walter G. Oakman (d. 1922), New York
Henry Rogers Winthrop (1878-1958), New York
Sale: (Sotheby’s) Parke Bernet, New York, January 22, 1942, lot 17, as Turkish Warrior
Maurice Goldblatt (1889-1984), Chicago
Sale: Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Chicago, May 13, 1990, lot 197
Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, October 23, 1990, lot 41
Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, February 17, 1993, lot 28
Private Collection, Greece (until 2005)
Private Collection, California (acquired from the above)
ExhibitedLondon, French Gallery, 1874, no. 44, as Botzaris
Glasgow, “Fine Art Loan Exhibition,” Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1878, no. 32, at Botzaris
London, French Gallery (“Mr. Wallis’s Exhibition”), 1885, no. 33, as Botzaris
Glasgow, “International Exhibition,” Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1888, no. 702, as Botsaris, An Albanian Patriot Washington, D.C., Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, “19th Century Orientalist Paintings from the Collection of Terence Garnett,” 2007, no. 1
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, “The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme,” 2010, no. 161
LiteratureEdward Strahan (Earl Shinn), ed., Gérôme: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, New York, 1881, Vol. II, Pl. LXXV, illustrated, as Marco Bozzaris
Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 235
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1986, p. 236, no. 239, illustrated (black and white), as Markos Botsaris and dated 1874
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 2000, p. 284, no. 239, illustrated p. 104 (color) and p. 285 (black and white), as Markos Botsaris and dated 1874
Gérôme and Goupil: Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, pp. 23, 160, illustrated (as photogravure)
Nineteenth-Century Orientalist Paintings in the Collection of Terence Garnett, New York, 2007, p. 14, illustrated (color) Laurence des Cars, Dominque de Font-Rélaux, and Édouard Papet, eds., The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 2010, pp. 246, 280, 282, illustrated (color)
One of Gérôme’s most penetrating psychological studies, this posthumous portrait of the Greek rebel leader Marcus Botsaris (1788-1823) numbers among his most compelling Orientalist works. The subject, prematurely aged by the artist for dramatic effect, sits amidst a brilliant display of patterned surfaces and decorative objets, many of which were drawn from the artist’s own extravagant collection. (Gérôme traveled throughout the East from 1856 onward, acquiring a virtual library of souvenirs along the way.) Despite the weight of his crimson and gold apparel, and Botsaris’s slouching pose – note the loosely crossed legs, offhandedly turned foot, and dangling right arm – the intensity of his outward stare suggests the energy within this remarkable man. Indeed, it was Botsaris who, during the War of Greek Independence and until his untimely death at Missolonghi in 1823, distinguished himself by his courage, tenacity, and skill as a soldier and regiment head.
Gérôme’s decision to portray Botsaris as a weathered and battle-worn figure, diminished by his surroundings and oversize garb, suggests the dual messages of this composition. The elaborate carving of his throne-like chair, with the mother-of- pearl inlay characteristic of the region, and the blue-and-white tile, likely drawn from photographs of Topkapi palace by Gérôme’s favorite Orientalist photographers, the Abdullah Frères, overwhelm the figure of Botsaris, who regards his onlookers from under furrowed brows. By burdening him with these regal accessories, and the political realities that he endured, Gérôme manages to provide both an (imaginative) historical portrait and a metaphor for his own experiences. Having arrived with his family in London in 1870 as both Europe’s most celebrated painter and a refugee from the Franco-Prussian War, Gérôme alludes to the isolation and introspection that often accompany positions of responsibility and power, and the unpredictable trajectories of modern life.
For contemporary audiences, certain aspects of Gérôme’s philosophical message were clear. The American biographer Fanny Field Hering had the following observations to make: “. . . [O]ne lingers longer over the grim-visaged Greek called Botzaris. Robed in rich apparel and bristling with costly weapons, he sits on his carven and cushioned chair, somber and listless, gazing moodily into space. Who can divine his thoughts? Does he, like Alexander, sigh only for more worlds to conquer, or has the spirit of modern life, with its weariness and satiety, its melancholy refrain of ‘tout passé, tous casse, tout lasse,’ penetrated even to this favored country, where gods and goddesses in their immortal and joyous vigor once deigned to consort with humanity? Whatever the tenor of his gloomy reverie, he furnishes a fine motif for a picture. The tiled wall, with its dado of matting and little niche containing a jar of odorous spices and rose-leaves, forms a pleasing background, and the minor accessories, such as the pendant saber and cord, narighilèh [pipe] with the stem coiled like a huge serpent upon a tray, the rug stretched upon a floor covered with strange arabesques, present a most harmonious ensemble of coloring and design,” (Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 235). Upon seeing the picture again in 1898, Gérôme’s own appreciation of his efforts took on more subtle tones: “It is already a long time,” the artist penned, “a very long time that that painting was executed, and some parts of it, such as modelling and colouring, seem to have been successful. I noted with pleasure that as regards material, it had not changed at all and that it appeared as having been painted yesterday. The simplest means are decidedly the best,” (September 18, 1898, Letter from Gérôme to Knoedler, quoted in Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme with a Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1986, p. 236).
The appearance of this unusual picture – unique in the artist’s oeuvre - in prominent private collections in England, Scotland, and America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was in keeping with the history of many of Gérôme’s best-known works. In 1859, Gérôme signed a contract with the French publisher and art dealer (and his future father-in-law) Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893). Goupil’s calculated marketing of Gérôme’s works, through both the sale of originals and affordable, mass-produced reproductions, guaranteed their widespread distribution, and the growth of his international appeal. (Goupil’s photogravure after this work, sold individually or with others in a group, was first produced in 1887, with numerous editions to follow; see Goupil & Co., Selected Works by J. – L. Gérôme, Paris, 1887-8, pl. 70.)
The industrial and commercial booms of the Victorian and Gilded Ages also had a critical role to play. They generated a new group of art purchasers and patrons in these countries, who were eager to prove the sophistication of their nouveau riche tastes. Henry Rogers Winthrop, a millionaire banker and society luminary in New York, was an early owner of this work; William Houldsworth’s fortune was made in cotton, allowing him to purchase a grand estate in Kilmarnock, Scotland, and amass a renowned collection of European paintings, including Gérôme’s Botsaris, which he regularly lent to exhibitions in Glasgow and other venues abroad. James Duncan, a sugar refiner and businessman, as well as major collector of art, had Scottish ties as well: indeed, in addition to appreciating the Academic style of Gérôme and others in his school, he was the first Scottish collector of Impressionism – a group Gérôme himself regarded with distaste.
A second, slightly smaller version of this composition, measuring 19 x 25 in. and presumed to be a sketch for this work, was also owned by Houldsworth. Its present whereabouts are unknown.
This note was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.
. Marcus Botsaris (1788-1823) was a Greek klepht leader who played an important role in the War of Greek Independence. (Klephts were bandits fleeing vendettas, debt, and taxes, who lived in the Greek countryside when that country was part of the Ottoman Empire; they were notorious for raiding travelers.) In 1803, after the capture of his native region of Souli by the military leader Ali Pasha, Botsaris crossed over to the Ionian Islands, where he eventually took service in a French regiment. In 1814 he joined the Greek patriotic society known as the Filiki Eteria and, in 1820, with other Souliots, made common cause with his old enemy Ali Pasha against the Ottoman Empire. On the outbreak of the Greek revolt, Botsaris distinguished himself by his courage, tenacity, and skill as a partisan leader in the fighting, and was conspicuous in the defense of Missolonghi during the first siege (1822-23). Shortly after taking both the city and the commander of the Turkish reinforcements as a prisoner, he was fatally shot. It was Botsaris’s good friend - and later Romantic hero - Lord Byron who succeeded his command.
. The model for this work was in fact a favorite of Gérôme’s; the costume is also reproduced in numerous compositions, and was based on items in the artist’s own collection.
. It is possible that the finished painting, dated 1870 by an anonymous cataloguer of the artist’s works prior to 1883, was not included in the annual Paris Salon of that year due to this disruption and change of residence. This would also explain why Goupil did not handle the work until 1874.