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Despite having trained for five years in the academic studio of Cabanel, Gervex was deeply influenced by Degas and Manet, and carefully created his own way, between Impressionist insurgency and academic complacency.
He made his name during the 1875/80’s as one of the boldest of the young artists who took Parisian social life and fin-de-siècle manners for their focus. Gervex had captured the attention of Paris in 1878 with a magnificently detailed painting of a dissolute young man, Rolla, contemplating suicide after a last night with a beautiful, still-sleeping prostitute, whose discarded dress, petticoats, and especially provocative corset were jumbled into the painting's lower corner. Removed from the Salon as an affront to moral decency - despite the artist's widely recognized source in a poem by the much-admired Alfred de Musset - the painting of Rolla was displayed in a nearby dealer's window to great acclaim (Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts).
Throughout the 1880s, Gervex continued to challenge the Salon with incidents from contemporary life: portraits of well-known courtesans, an autopsy, and a view of butcher shops.