Although Gleyre’s painting features exquisitely refined use of colour, drawing lies at the core of his craft. Forms are very clearly delineated and volumes are delicately sculpted, conferring on his compositions the clarity of bas-reliefs from Antiquity. The artist prepares each figure in his paintings by meticulously studying gestures and expressions, which are given a sculptural quality by carefully muted work in pencil or red chalk.
Gleyre taught this science of composition to his pupils for over twenty-five years. In 1843, when he was basking in the glow of the success of The Evening at the Salon, he replaced the painter Paul Delaroche as the head of one of the most popular teaching studios in Paris. Known for his open-minded approach – he trained historical and landscape painters alike – and for his democratic views, Gleyre was a humble and attentive teacher who was also praised for his generosity. His pupils only paid a contribution to his rent and the cost for the models.
In the early 1860s, when the “master’s” health was deteriorating, the studio experienced financial difficulties. It closed on the eve of war in 1870. Over 500 young painters – male and female – reaped the benefit of his teaching, including figures as diverse as Greek Revival artists Jean-Louis Hamon and Jean-Léon Gérôme, the American James Whistler and future Impressionists like Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille and Auguste Renoir.