The Offering is a tour de force of Orientalist art, a masterful observation of the customs, costumes and architecture of the East, rendered with faithful verisimilitude and in painstaking detail. The importance Deutsch attached to this composition is reflected by the fact that he painted a second, undated, version, with minor compositional differences and measuring 69.8 by 95.5cm, now in a private collection (see Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes, peintres voyageurs, Paris, 2001, p. 241).
A cortège of four figures approaches an entrance guarded by a Nubian sentinel to pay their tributes. Leading the retinue is an elder bearing a rolled scroll. He leads a nobleman and a soldier. The soldier wearing the helmet carries a Persian Qajar ivory-hilted jambiya in his belt and an Ottoman shamshir sword with a curved blade in his hand. They are accompanied by a servant carrying the gifts to be presented, including a Qajar gold-overlaid helmet and an Ottoman yataghan as worn by the Janissary Guard. The well-armed sentinel standing guard, his yataghan bared, carries not only a kindjaldagger but an Ottoman flintlock pistol and a powder flask in his belt. The entrance itself, presumably to a palace, incorporates many architectural elements from the portal of the Mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo (fig. 1), a site which inspired other Orientalist painters, notably David Roberts (lot 7) and John Frederick Lewis (fig. 2).
Deutsch was the leading Orientalist painter of the Austrian school, which also included Rudolf Ernst, Arthur von Ferraris, and Rudolf Weisse. He trained at the Vienna Academy in 1872 but settled in Paris in 1878, where he studied with the history painter Jean-Paul Laurens and honed his highly academic style. Deutsch began travelling regularly to Egypt in 1883, and Orientalist subjects dominated his oeuvre from this time on, earning him unprecedented praise. In 1900, three years after painting The Offering, Deutsch received a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and later the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. The polished surfaces and hallucinatory realism of his paintings were founded on a vast collection of photographs he amassed in Cairo. Deutsch also acquired hundreds of props while abroad, which dressed his Paris studio and featured in many of his paintings.