In this highly unusual bust, painter Jean-Leon Gérôme looks out from beneath tousled hair through weary yet visionary eyes, his head looming large above his abbreviated chest. Unlike most busts, this one abruptly terminates in an irregular, jagged edge precariously set atop a conventional socle, like a fragment of ancient sculpture that has survived the ravages of time. This disembodiment symbolizes the struggling and alienated creative spirit that the Romantics saw in artists, musicians, and poets.
Gérôme, a successful academic artist and one of Emperor Napoleon's favored painters, taught at the École des Beaux-Arts for over forty years. Sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux made the first version of this bust of his friend in clay when he and Gérôme were both exiled in London during the Paris Commune of 1871. Carpeaux sent a bronze version to the 1872 Salon and produced many other versions of the bust in terrracotta, plaster, and bronze.