The Slave Market (Gérôme painting)

The Slave Market (French: Le Marché d'esclaves) is an 1866 painting by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. It depicts an unspecific Middle Eastern or North African setting where a man inspects the teeth of a nude, female slave.

The Slave Market
ArtistJean-Léon Gérôme
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions84.6 cm × 63.3 cm (33.3 in × 24.9 in)
LocationClark Art Institute, Williamstown

The painting was bought by Adolphe Goupil on 23 August 1866 and exhibited at the Salon in 1867. It was bought and sold several times until Robert Sterling Clark bought it in 1930. Since 1955 it is part of the Clark Art Institute's collection.[1]

Along with Gérôme's The Snake Charmer (also owned by the Clark), The Slave Market has become an iconic example of 19th-century orientalist art.[1]


Maxime Du Camp, who had travelled extensively in the Near East, reviewed the painting from the 1867 Salon. He located the motif to Cairo's slave market and described the painting as "a scene done on the spot".[1] Du Camp wrote:

It is one of these [more expensive] women, an Abyssinian, that M. Gérôme has taken as the principal figure of his composition. She is nude and being displayed by the djellab, who has the fine head of a brigand accustomed to every sort of abduction and violence; the idea of the eternal soul must not very often have tormented such a bandit. The poor girl is standing, submissive, humble, resigned, with a fatalistic passivity that the painter has very skillfully rendered.[1][2]

Race, gender, and sexualityEdit

Gérome's Buying A Slave (1857), with a Classical setting, predated The Slave Market by almost ten years.

In an art historical context, Harem scenes depicted domestic spaces for the women in the Muslim societies; the males were only included in barbaric and sexual relations. This painting presents an unspecific Middle Eastern or North African setting in which a man inspects the teeth of a nude Caucasian[3] female slave. Women were depicted with a passive sexuality, while the men were depicted as domineering and disrespectful towards women.[4]

Gérome's depictions of slave trading predated The Slave Market and some were set in the Classical world. He painted a very similar scene in 1857, Buying a Slave, set in the ancient Greek or Roman world, in which racial differences between buyer, seller, and slave are not as apparent.[1] The slaves depicted sometimes vary in skin color (as in The Slave Market of 1871); in all cases a woman or women are for sale, with men as buyers or sellers, but in the background of The Slave Market buyers can be seen inspecting a nude, dark-skinned male, and in the background of Slave Market in Ancient Rome (c. 1884) two enslaved males, one black and one white, can be seen.

A depiction by Gérôme of a slave in another context is Cave Canem (1881). In ancient Rome, a chained and collared man sits under the notice "Cave Canem," Latin for "Beware the Dog."

Use in mediaEdit

2019 European electionsEdit

The right-wing political party Alternative for Germany used the painting in a political advert for the 2019 European Parliament election. The reprint was accompanied with the slogan "Europeans vote AfD!" and "So Europe doesn't become Eurabia!"[5] Deutsche Welle reported how the painting was used with racist intent, in that it suggestively depicted dark-skinned men with beards and turbans "inspecting the teeth of a nude white woman".[6] The Clark Art Institute denounced AfD's use of the painting strongly.[7]

Gallery: Gérôme's depictions of slaves and slave marketsEdit

Gallery: Other Academic and Orientalist depictions of slave marketsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Lees, Sarah, ed. (2012). Nineteenth-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (excerpt: "The Slave Market") (PDF). pp. 359–363.
  2. ^ Hering, Fanny Field (1892). Gérôme: The Life and Works of Jean Léon Gérôme. New York: Cassell. p. 117.
  3. ^ Davis, Professor Robert (2003). Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800. Ohio USA: Pangrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-333-71966-4.
  4. ^ Ali, Isra (2015). "The harem fantasy in nineteenth-century Orientalist paintings". Dialectical Anthropology. 39: 33–46. doi:10.1007/s10624-015-9372-7. S2CID 254414427.
  5. ^ "U.S. Museum Condemns Far-right German Party for Using Their Painting for anti-Muslim Campaign". Haaretz. May 1, 2019. Archived from the original on April 25, 2020. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  6. ^ "AfD in hot water with US museum over campaign billboard". Deutsche Welle. April 26, 2019.
  7. ^ Hickley, Catherine (30 April 2019). "US museum criticises use of Gérôme's Slave Market in German right-wing campaign". The Art Newspaper.

External linksEdit