The 'academicism' school of painting owed it's name to the influence of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the standards set that influenced artwork produced in this period which appertained to Neoclassicism and Romanticism movements.
Drawing on scenes and material from his Egyptian travels, Gerome's painting is typical of 'genre art' which uses events and scenes taken from daily life such as in street scenes, markets and domestic settings. In The Pelt Merchant of Cairo the artist depicts the rich colours and lifelike impression of the street seller displaying his pelt. The oil painting vividly brings to life the Cairo street with it's near perspective of the pelt seller and with other figures in the background and under an archway receding into myriad streets.
Although Gerome was assiduous in trying to undertake preliminary sketches of all he had seen in Egypt, sometimes the arduous conditions of the day spent walking in the hot sun were too tiring to enable him to finish work on everything he had seen and certain scenes had to be retained in his memory alone.
After an early failure to gain admission to the Prix de Rome due to his inadequate figure drawing, Gerome sent work to the Paris Salon in 1847 and gained a third class medal. He used this success to undertake a series of religious and mythical paintings which enabled him to win a second class medal at the Paris Salon a year later. Gerome was later commissioned to paint a large mural and was given a substantial amount of money to research and prepare his subject matter which culminated in a mural entitled The Age of Augustus, the Birth of Christ.
Prior to his Egyptian travels Gerome had joined a network of artists, writers and actors who frequented studios in Paris and which was a melting pot of talent that also incorporated a number of composers. During his time here, Gerome completed religious commissions and other artwork. In The Pelt Merchant of Cairo, the artist's style is seen at his peak in the compelling stare of the merchant and the vibrant but complementary hues of the man's skin tone against the background and rich colours of the tiger pelt.