Jean-Léon Gérôme was born at Vesoul, Haute-Saône. He went to Paris in 1840 where he
studied under Paul Delaroche, whom he accompanied to Italy (1843–1844). He visited
Florence, Rome, the Vatican and Pompeii, but he was more attracted to the world of nature.
Taken by a fever, he was forced to return to Paris in 1844. On his return he followed, like many
other students of Delaroche, into the atelier of Charles Gleyre and studied there for a brief time.
He then attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1846 he tried to enter the prestigious Prix de
He tried to improve his skills by painting The Cockfight (1846), an academic exercise depicting
a nude young man and a lightly draped girl with two fighting cocks and in the background the Bay
of Naples. He sent this painting to the Salon of 1847, where it gained him a third-class medal.
This work was seen as the epitome of the Neo-Grec movement that had formed out of Gleyre's
studio (such as Henri-Pierre Picou (1824–1895) and Jean-Louis Hamon), and was championed
by the influential French critic Théophile Gautier.