Gérôme studied under the artist Paul Delaroche and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for three years prior to traveling to Rome in 1843. Gérôme debuted at the 1847 Salon. In 1863 Gérôme accepted a position as one of the three professors of fine art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a position he would hold for the next 39 years.
Gérôme traveled to Egypt for the first time in 1856. He returned to Egypt six times in the next decades, and he made many Orientalist paintings of North African people, cities, animals, and landscapes. In the 1870s, Gérôme turned to sculpture, which preoccupied him for much of the rest of his career.
A fixture of the Paris art world, Gérôme decried the work of Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and their friends, seeing in their new style of painting a rejection of all he had taught and created. As the Impressionists rose in popularity, Gérôme’s stock correspondingly fell. He remained, however, a sought-after and well-connected teacher—and an artist who was popular in America.