Jean-Léon Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor in the style now known as Academicism. The range of his oeuvre included historical painting, Greek mythology, Orientalism, portraits and other subjects, bringing the Academic painting tradition to an artistic climax. He is considered one of the most important painters from this academic period, and in addition to being a painter, he was also a teacher with a long list of students.
Jean-Léon Gérôme went to Paris in 1840 to study under Paul Delaroche, whom he accompanied to Italy in 1843–44. He visited Florence, Rome, the Vatican and Pompeii, but he was more attracted to the world of nature. Back to Paris in 1844 he briefly studied under Charles Gleyre and attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1846 he tried to enter the prestigious Prix de Rome, but failed in the final stage because his figure drawing was inadequate. He tried to improve his skills by painting The Cockfight one of his most famous painting. This work was seen as the epitome of the Neo-Grec movement that had formed out of Gleyre's studio, and was championed by the influential French critic Théophile Gautier.
Gérôme abandoned his dream of winning the Prix de Rome and took advantage of his sudden success. He did some paintings which gained some success. In 1851, he decorated a vase, later offered by Emperor Napoleon III of France to Prince Albert. Thanks to a considerable down payment, he was able to travel in 1853 to Constantinople, the first of several travels to the East: he made another journey to Greece and Turkey. In 1856, he visited Egypt for the first time. This would herald the start of many orientalist paintings depicting Arab religion, genre scenes and North African landscapes.
In 1858, he helped to decorate the Paris house of Prince Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte in the Pompeian style. Gérôme was elected, on his fifth attempt, a member of the Institut de France in 1865. His fame had become such that he was invited, along with the most eminent French artists, to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Gérôme returned successfully to the Salon in 1873. Gérôme was also successful as a sculptor. He started experimenting with mixed ingredients, using for his statues tinted marble, bronze and ivory, inlaid with precious stones and paste.
In 1853, Gérôme moved to the Boîte à Thé, a group of studios in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris. This would become a meeting place for other artists, writers and actors. He started an independent atelier at his house in the Rue de Bruxelles between 1860 and 1862. He was appointed as one of the three professors at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He started with sixteen students, most who had come over from his own studio. His influence became extensive until he started to protest and show a public hostility to "decadent fashion" of Impressionism, then his influence started to wane and he became unfashionable. But after the exhibition of Manet in the Ecole in 1884, he eventually admitted that "it was not so bad as I thought."
Jean-Léon Gérôme died in his atelier on 10 January 1904. He was found in front of a portrait of Rembrandt and close to his own painting "The Truth". He was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in front of the statue Sorrow that he had cast for his son Jean who had died in 1891.