The Duel After the Masquerade: Formal Analysis


The formal analysis represents a form of artistic exploration that requires a viewer to look at a piece of art and try to understand what the author tried to convey. Therefore, there is no unified way in which things can be interpreted; rather, the observer will present information based on who he or she is as a person, what are the experiences in terms of education, as well as what is the context of the analysis. For this formal analysis, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting the Duel After the Masquerade will be explored. The painting was produced in 1857 with oil on canvas and could be classified as an example of the academicism style. It is notable for its differences from the rest of the paintings that Gérôme created, and the meaning that it bore depends on how a viewer perceived it. Despite the confusing context of the scene depicted in the image, the Duel After the Masquerade is notable for its color palette and composition.

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The first step in the formal analysis is concerned with the exploration of the color palette that dominates the painting. Gérôme’s choice of hues is rather interesting because most of the Duel After the Masquerade’s scene is painted in muddy beige and grey tones, which immediately creates a somber and somewhat disturbing atmosphere. However, it is notable that there are three primary colors: red, black, and white, which serve as a guideline for the composition. The three colors are highly saturated and stand out from the beiges and greys that prevail in the painting.

The value of the color choices in Gérôme’s painting should not be underestimated. The bright red color of the costume in which one of the main characters is dressed draws attention to the forefront of the composition. It is evident that the painter deliberately chooses red because it will create a contrast with the rest of the scene. The dying duelist is dressed in a bright white costume, and the small patch of richly colored blood on his chests suggests to the viewer that his end is near. The two people standing behind the men in white and red are dressed in black clothing, thus framing the scene, drawing attention to what is going on to the left side of the painting. The two men on the right are facing in the opposite direction, leaving the spectacle. They are painted in the same colors as the background, almost merging with it. This shows that they are not the main characters in the painting.


How Gérôme plays with lines will also show viewers which part of the painting they should pay attention to. The background of the tragedy is blurred, depicting a cold and dark morning sometime in winter. Some silhouettes of horses and people can be seen far away from the main scene, but they are irrelevant. The two men walking away from the duel are also merging with the background, and the painter deliberately avoids using sharp lines to make them more detailed. The group on the left, however, is depicted in the greatest detail, from the drapes on the men’s clothing to the sharp edge of the saber.

Space and Mass

The Duel After the Masquerade has elements of linear perspective, with a clear horizon line, orthogonal (parallel lines), and the vanishing point (Figure 1). The two men on the right are closer to the vanishing point and thus are smaller and more blurred. How the two elements are located opposite to each other but still on the same parallel lines creates a sense of unity in the painting. The special recession is directed to the right side of the painting, thus emphasizing the events taking place to the left.

Figure 1. Self-generated.


The Duel After the Masquerade is painted on a 20 by 28 inches canvas. The scale is enough for viewers to see all the details as well as look at the painting from different angles. When studying the elements within the painting, scale is also used for emphasizing and de-emphasizing some parts of the scene. Thus, the group of men to the left is painted larger than the one on the right. They are the center of the composition despite being moved closer to the frame. There is also a definite presence of seesaw composition when it comes to balance.


The visual emphasis on the painting is placed on the left part of the composition. Color, scale, and line are all used to make the four men stand out from the rest of the scene. It must be mentioned that Gérôme uses geometry for creating balance in the painting. One smaller and another larger-sized object are placed opposite to each other. The center between them creates a point of balance, thus making the composition of the painting similar to a seesaw. The largest and the most important element is placed to the edge of the frame and thus further from the balance point while the smaller and less important element is placed closer to the center. To indicate the point of balance in the painting, Gérôme uses a cape lying on the ground. Because of the seesaw composition, all elements are integrated into the painting despite some of them being brighter and more important. There is some separation to a certain extent due to the need to emphasize the events occurring to the left side of the painting; however, the presence of balance justifies this.

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When it comes to emotions, the idea of what the painter wanted to convey might be puzzling at first sight. The viewer should shift his or her attention from the contrast between the festive costumes of the characters and the death scene to the characters to grasp the understanding of what notion Gérôme tried to present. The in-depth analysis suggests that the painting resembles political undertones, as Clowns and Harlequins have been strongly associated with politicians. Thus, the painter may have used symbolism to express his perspectives on those who hold power, showing that they may conceal themselves behind the masks but they cannot avoid the consequences of their actions.


The Duel After the Masquerade is a simple yet complex painting the meaning behind it remains to be deciphered. Jean-Léon Gérôme brilliantly uses color, scale, perspective, and composition to depict a tragicomic scene with a somber atmosphere. The use of color is the most notable in the case of the painting because the primary red, black, and white colors serve as a sign that draws the attention of viewers to the most important component of the scene. The painting can be observed for hours, and, although its meaning may not be completely clear, how Gérôme structured it should not be overlooked.

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