It’s been a while since I’ve done a Historic Painting post, and I thought I would return to one of my favorite 19th century painters, the inimitable Jean-Léon Gérôme. I’ve featured his work before (see here, here, here and here), and I had seen this, one of his more famous pictures, a long time ago but have not had time to get around to featuring it until now.

The Duel After the Masquerade is a magnificent and melancholy scene. It caused a sensation when Gérôme first painted it in the period 1857-59, with everybody speculating on exactly what (and who) it’s supposed to depict. Set in the Bois de Boulogne, a public park in Paris, probably in the 16th century, two men who apparently came into conflict at a masquerade ball have just fought a duel, and one of them is fatally wounded. The victim is dressed as Pierrot, a stock character from French theater, sort of a clownish imp, while the man who has killed him is dressed as a Native American chief. The man in the frilly collar holding up the victim is speculated to resemble the Duke of Guise, a French nobleman who was assassinated in 1588. Beyond these clues, we have no idea what the story is that the viewer has stumbled into, and apparently only at the end.

I love this picture precisely because it fires the imagination. What happened at the ball? What was the dispute about? Was the masquerade ball perhaps given by Louis XIV, as the period would be right for that? We’ll never know, but you can spend all day thinking about it, and that’s precisely what Gérôme intended.

The original of this picture is in the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France. It has remained a very popular painting over the years. Gérôme died in 1904.

This picture is in the public domain.