In 1857, Gerome travelled to Egypt and took the classic grand tour up and down the River Nile. The trip took him to Cairo, Abu Simbel and the Sinai Peninsula. It was after these travels that Gerome began doing Orientalist paintings. Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert is among the most well-known from this technique. The artist used North African landscapes, genre scenes and Arab religious practices.
The Treatment of Recruits
In this particular piece, Gerome depicts the treatment of recruits in ancient Egypt, which was part of the culture in the region. The painting features several men in the foreground. Four of them appear to be guards who are guarding the recruits. Each one has what seems to be a long rifle. They are positioned strategically so that there is a guard at each end and two at the front leading the crowd. Just behind them are six men, handcuffed in pairs. Their expressions are wary and exhausted. In the background, more men occupy the artwork.
Although all the men are wearing turbans, the recruits have different clothes from their guards. It's easy to tell the class difference between the two types of travellers. The scene says a lot about how Egyptian authorities treated the people who were joining the military. During this era, recruits in Egypt were subjects of harmful practices that only got worse for foreigners. Forced conscription was common, which is why it was necessary to have guards.
A Touch of Colour
Gerome created a colourful piece in Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert. Although the French artist did not use many colours, the existing scheme works well to tell the story. The yellowish sand seems to reflect the scorching sun. Gerome dressed most of the guards in white garbs, which is ironic considering their duties. Shades of red, brown and grey populate the rest of the travelling crowd. Despite the sombre mood of the scene, the different colours add a bit of life into the various characters.
Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert was among the paintings that elevated Gerome's status as a painter. He exhibited the piece at the Paris Salon of 1857. Camels Watering, Memnon and Sesostris and Suite d'un Bal Masqué are some of the other paintings included at the display.