top of page

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Pygmalion and Galataea

by Alexandra Tuschka

King Pygmalion created an ivory statue so beautiful that he himself fell in love with it. He gave her gifts and even took her to his bed. A prayer to Venus was answered by her and the statue came to life with a kiss. 

Although a king, Pygmalion was considered by artists as a figure of identification and was usually depicted in a studio, not very befitting his status. Gérôme became so concrete that he transposed the mythological scene into his own studio. The boundaries between him and the mythological figure become fluid. Instead of Venus, her representative and son Cupid enters the picture. This floats a little more transparently than the rest of the picture background from the right into the picture. He aims at the two. Whether this is still necessary, as intimately as they are already kissing? It doesn't bother them that only half of the female body is already animated. The back view also stimulates the viewer's imagination. The fact that Pygmalion is captured in a crotch position for the kiss conveys something spontaneous, immediate. 

Gérôme did not devote himself to the subject only once. Before this canvas execution, he already created a marble group, which served him as a model for further paintings and allowed him different views of the same. The details in the background can not be clearly attributed. From left to right, a statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt, can be seen, next to it a mother with child, finally a seated woman with a mirror. On the right there are two distorted masks and at the bottom right possibly the head of Medusa on a shield. Compositionally, the work is divided into two halves almost in the middle by a straight line. Below, brown tones and the statue's legs still in the ivory; above, love brought to life and numerous works of art in the studio.

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Pygmalion and Galataea

Oil on canvas, 1890, 88.9 × 68.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York


bottom of page