- Auction at Sotheby’s on 21 April 2015
- Ludwig Deutsch, The Palace Guard, 1893, oil on panel, Estimate: £800,000-1,200,000
London – Abu Dhabi – Doha,16 April 2015: On 21 April 2015 in London, Sotheby’s will present The Orientalist Sale as part of the company’s Orientalist & Islamic Week.* The 42-lot auction showcases important Orientalist paintings of Turkey, North Africa, the Levant, and the Middle East.
The genre of Orientalist art has undergone a revision in perception over the last thirty years. Orientalist paintings are today coveted by collectors and institutions in the Middle Eastern and North African region, for whom they offer fascinating glimpses into their countries’ history before the widespread use of photography and when representative painting was little practiced by local artists. For the most part, Western nineteenth-century artists travelled to the East from across America and Europe to try and capture the ‘Orient’ faithfully in order to enlighten their audiences at home and to raise the bar for themselves, not only in terms of their reputations but also the self-imposed challenge of painting sites, cultures and the intense desert light few had experienced before. The resulting European representations of the ‘Orient’, far from being the visual embodiment of an exoticising, colonialist agenda, were faithful depictions of the sights that many of the artists experienced first-hand.
Claude Piening, Sotheby’s Head of Orientalist Paintings, commented: “The Orient – a term used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to describe present-day Turkey, the Levant and Middle East, North Africa, and lands as Far East as Persia and India – exerted its allure on the imagination of Western artists for centuries, and today the appeal of their work is as strong as ever. While there has always been a healthy interest in the genre amongst traditional buyers in the West, we have seen enormous growth in interest from buyers in the Arab and Islamic world. With private collectors and institutions in the region today competing to the highest levels at auction and privately to secure the best examples of Orientalist art, one might argue that the perception of this exquisite genre has fully evolved.”
French, 1855 - 1935
The Palace Guard
Painted in 1893, oil on panel
Illustrated on page 1
The Palace Guard, a powerful and noble evocation of the Egyptian world which Deutsch had experienced for himself, depicts a Nubian sentry standing guard before a palace entrance. Powerful in its overall impact, yet painstaking in its detail, the work bears witness to Deutsch’s rigorous and highly accomplished technique. Although little is known of the artist’s working methods, it is likely that only the use of a magnifying glass would have allowed Deutsch to achieve the extremely fine level of detail visible in this work, with every link in the figure’s chainmail individually rendered. This highly finished miniaturistic technique itself mirrors the exquisite Islamic craftsmanship of the various accoutrements worn by the guard, who wears a Safavid gold-overlaid steel helmet of the type made in Persia in the eighteenth century, along with a Safavid arm guard or Bazuband. In his breastplate he carries, from left to right, a late eighteenth or early nineteenth century Ottoman silver repoussé scabbard, jade-hilted dagger, and flintlock pistol or kubur. At his waist he carries a seventeenth-century Ottoman ray-skin powder flask with applied silver mounts and ivory terminals. In his hands he holds a late eighteenth-century Ottoman ivory-hilted sword or yataghan, and at his feet rests a Persian steel shield, probably Safavid, of the seventeenth century.
Paradoxically, while the execution of The Palace Guard demonstrates Deutsch’s desire to understand and record the Middle East in every detail, the subject – of a formidable figure barring any further advance – may be symbolic of the challenge of his quest: as hard as artists might try to chronicle Arab society, there will always be aspects of its rich culture that remain a mystery or beyond the grasp of Western observers.
In the Madrasa
Painted in 1890, oil on panel
Among Deutsch’s most ambitious multifigural compositions, and one of very few works in which children take centre-stage, this work presents an original and informal vignette of daily life in Cairo. With touching observation, the artist presents the figures in various forms of study. One of the most revered Orientalists of the late nineteenth century, Deutsch devoted himself almost exclusively to Cairene subjects from the early 1880s onwards and masterfully captured everyday life on the streets of Cairo, favouring subjects from cafés, markets and mosques. Always described with breath-taking virtuosity, the architecture, religious ceremonies, and Oriental furniture form exquisitely detailed backdrops for the figures depicted.
Austrian, 1854 - 1932
The Arms Merchant
Painted in 1885, oil on panel
The Arms Merchant, like Deutsch’s The Palace Guard, focuses on all manner of closely observed weaponry, from the yataghan sword being inspected by the prospective customer, to the ivory-hilted kard (dagger), curved shamshir (sword), and Caucasian flintlock pistol on display on the floor. Nearby, the merchant’s hookah pipe rests against the folds of the rug. The composition perfectly captures a Middle Eastern side street, the merchant’s canopy adorned with decorative ostrich egg pendants. This painting is one of Ernst’s early Orientalist works, inspired by his travels to Egypt. Almost all his paintings were executed in his studio in Paris, which he decorated in an Eastern style and filled with the sketches and props he accumulated on his travels.
French, 1861 - 1929
The Night Hunter
oil on canvas
Etienne Dinet’s The Night Hunter, a masterful evocation of the Bedouin soul, stands out in the artist’s oeuvre, on two counts. Firstly for its masculine subject matter, secondly, for having remained in the ownership of the family of its first owner, Raymond Laquière, the son of Général Emmanuel Laquière (1855-1920), a close friend of the artist. The viewer is left to speculate whom or what the proud local tribesman is stalking. The work itself may suggest two different interpretations. The rifleman’s stealth under the cover of darkness and his intense concentration might infer that he is preparing an ambush against an enemy tribe, or indeed a colonial oppressor. But he might also be a hunter preparing to attack a significant game animal. Setting the scene at night accentuates the mystery, and also provides an exceptional example of Dinet’s chiaroscuro style, as he applies the techniques of classical painting to the study of desert life.
Leopold Alphons Mielich
The Pottery Seller
oil on canvas
The Pottery Seller depicts a scene of everyday Egyptian life. As startling as the bustling activity of market day is the bright desert light, which so fascinated Western painters on their visits to the region, and which lent their palettes a whole new chromatic dimension. The heat of the midday sun is almost palpable, as one trader, engaged in conversation with another, shields his face using the basket containing his wares. Austrian-born Mielich first travelled to Egypt in 1889, and returned on several occasions up until the outbreak of the First World War, and the ‘snapshot’ verisimilitude of this scene is testimony to his sensitive understanding of the culture he depicts.
Une caravane dans l’Oued-Biskra
Painted in 1893, oil on canvas
This masterful evocation of the Saharan light was the artist’s submission to the Paris Salon des Artistes Français of 1893. The painting is a re-discovery, having remained in a private collection in France since it was painted. It is presented in its original Salon frame. Although coincidentally painted in the same year as Deutsch’s The Palace Guard, Une caravane dans l’Oued-Biskra is a prime example of the altogether more Impressionistic painterly approach characterising the leading French Orientalists of Lucas-Robiquet’s generation, notably Etienne Dinet. A Berber or Touareg family is seen traversing the floodplain of a wadi near Biskra in northern Algeria. The head of the family briefly halts the caravan – composed of four camels and a donkey carrying the children, possessions, and supplies – before fording the river. Lucas-Robiquet explored this composition in several oil sketches made on the spot while living in Algeria.
French, 1824 - 1904
Caravan passing the Colossi of Memnon, Thebes
oil on canvas
Painted in 1856, this painting is a study for the larger version of the same subject, dated 1857. The Colossi of Memnon, located on the plain of Thebes on Luxor’s west bank, are two monumental twin statues flanking the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1386 to 1349 BC.
French, 1822 - 1882
oil on canvas
Dehodencq’s large and lavish rendition of the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) en route to Mecca is an especially magnificent and wonderfully detailed painting of the subject by a Western artist. The landscape is not specific, but the shoreline might suggest a location on the Red Sea, south of Aqaba. At the centre of the enfilade of dignitaries, janissaries, soldiers, and musicians and mounted on the leading camel is the holy mahmal, the elaborate coffer containing the Koran that accompanies the pilgrims to Mecca. Ottoman control of the Hajj developed with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and the sacking of Constantinople in 1453. Setting off in the last month of the Islamic year, tens of thousands of pilgrims from all segments of society joined these caravans, which under Ottoman control were in their size and organisation like moving cities.
The Ottomam Empire & Turkey
The Ottoman Empire and Turkey have fascinated Western artists for centuries. As early as the eighteenth century, official painters attached to Western embassies and missions to the Ottoman Court began recording local landscapes, costumes, and diplomatic encounters. The sale features a selection of works with Turkish subjects by leading European painters, including Fausto Zonaro and Jean Baptiste Vanmour.
Italian, 1854 - 1929
Bayram (The Celebration)
oil on canvas
Painted circa 1899, Fausto Zonaro’s Bayram (the Turkish for 'feast' or 'celebration') is an exciting re-discovery – never before offered on the open market, it is the slightly smaller of two large-scale versions of this street festival Zonaro painted, the other being in a private collection. Both works can be seen hanging on the walls of Zonaro’s studio in Constantinople, in photographs taken by the artist’s wife Elise shortly before their return to Italy in 1910 following the deposition of Sultan Abdülhamid II, to whom Zonaro had been court painter.
Situated in the Kurtuluş district (then named Tatavla) of Istanbul, the scene depicts the local celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, the feast which celebrates the breaking of the Ramadan Fast. Traditionally-attired men dance a joyous jig to the accompaniment of musicians amid a crowd of onlookers. Zonaro vividly describes being swept up with the Bayram celebrations in his memoirs; the artist makes an appearance in this painting, wearing a fedora, to the right. Given the diversity of communities living in Istanbul, their feasts provided Zonaro with a continuous and ever-changing sequence of thrilling spectacles to be witnessed and captured in paint. After leaving Constantinople, Zonaro settled and spent the rest of his life in San Remo on the Italian Riviera, where this work was purchased by the grandfather of the current owner. Its appearance on the market coincides with a major retrospective of Zonaro’s work at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence from April to June 2015.
Jean Baptiste Vanmour
French, 1671 - 1737
Cortège du Sultan
oil on canvas
This work is a spectacular panoramic depiction of an Ottoman procession, testament to Vanmour’s first-hand observation of the customs of court life in Istanbul and among the largest known works by the artist. Led by janissaries mounted and on foot, the Sultan is depicted in the foreground of the scene flanked by bodyguards wearing distinctive headdresses of white feathers, with the grand vizier in the middle-distance beyond and the chief eunuch towards the rear, while a dervish and a group of onlookers bow down to express their allegiance. The Sultan depicted is probably Ahmed III, who ruled from 1703-1730 and appears in a number of important works by Vanmour.
Austrian, b. 1838
Constantinople from Galata
oil on canvas
This view from Galata looking across the Golden Horn towards Seraglio Point, the Topkapi Palace, and Haghia Sophia captures the grandeur of one of the great natural harbours of the world. Flowing into the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara beyond, the Golden Horn attracted settlers to its shores in the seventh century BC and later enabled Constantinople to become a rich and powerful port. According to legend, the Byzantines threw so many valuables into it during the Ottoman conquest that the waters glistened with gold. For hundreds of years the city’s trade was conducted by ships that off-loaded their goods into warehouses lining the Golden Horn, and this brisk trade is captured in Hayette’s view.