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Dance of the Almeh

Dance of the Almeh

Gérôme’s convincing realism, as well as his choice of both historic and exotic subjects, made him one of the most famous and successful artists of mid-nineteenth century France.  The title of this painting refers to the Arabic word analeim, meaning learned woman, which originally applied to professional female improvisers of songs and poems.  By 1850, the term meant virtually any woman dancer, many of whom were also prostitutes.  Their alluring dances, accompanied as shown here by musicians playing a clay drum, two-stringed cello, and double reed pipe, also figured in the work of esteemed French writers such as Gustave Flaubert.  European travelers came to think of these dances as a required part of their experience of the Orient. 

Gérôme showed the painting at the 1864 Salon, the official annual exhibition in Paris.  Although Gérôme was by then securely established, Dance of the Almeh was highly controversial.  Though apparently popular with the public and with some critics, the painting provoked others to complain about its overt appeal to sexual sensibilities, some claiming that it was too immoral to be publicly shown.  The controversy seems to have had little effect on Gérôme’s career, as he attracted scores of European and American artists to study with him until the very end of his long career.

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904)
French
Dance of the Almeh, 1863
Oil on wood panel
19 3/4 x 32 inches
Gift of Mr. Robert Badenhop
1951.15