The picture is set on the shores of the Bosporus, under a blue sky and at the foot of a public fountain.3 It is summer, as the abundance of watermelon attest. To the left, crowds of people gather together to barter, trade, and converse. Dogs and horses are also present, subtle reminders of Pasini’s consummate skill as an equestrian and animal painter. (The muscular haunches of Pasini’s horses are a virtual signature of the artist, and an integral part of nearly every outdoor composition.) Many of the figures recur in others of Pasini’s works, their carefully recorded clothing and distinctive accessories adding an ethnographic gloss and a sense of familiarity to the exotic scenes. Here, the confectionery-colored dresses and diminutive parasols of the veiled women provide a virtual catalogue of the fashions of the day, which can be traced and expanded from composition to composition (fig. 1).4 Such incidental details delighted Pasini’s contemporaries, who wrote of this work with unrestrained enthusiasm:
Voilà de la couleur vive et de la lumière et du soleil! Quel éclat! quelle vivacité! quel éblouissement pour les yeux, que cette mer bleue, ces coupoles blanches, ces arbres verts, ces murs d’un jaune doré, et cette foule bariolée, Turcs, Grecs, Arméniens, Européens, Juifs, Arabes, nègres, marchandes de pastèques, de fleurs et d’oranges, femmes avec leurs parasols ouverts, et enveloppées de robes de toutes les couleurs nonseulement de l’arc-en-ciel, mais inventées par les chefs de rayons des magasins du Louvre et du Bon Marché, les plus vives, les plus étincelantes et plus claires, rose, bleu tendre, jaune brilliant, lilas, vert d’eau, etc. Rien de plus vivant, de plus joli, de plus gai, de plus animé et de plus animant. C’est tout l’éclat, la lumière et la couleur de Stamboul . . . C’est à donner envie de partir sur l’heure pour Constantinople.
[Here is the bright color and the light and the sun! What a shine! What vivacity! The blue sea, the white cupolas, the green trees, the golden yellow walls, and the multicolored crowd of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Europeans, Jews, Arabs, negroes, watermelon merchants, flowers and oranges, women with their open umbrellas, and wrapped in robes of all colors not only of the rainbow, but invented by the heads of stores of the Louvre and Bon Marché, the most vivid, the most sparkling and clear, pink, soft blue, brilliant yellow, lilac, sea green, etc. Nothing more lively, more beautiful, more gay, more animated and more animating. It is all the brilliancy, the light, and the color of Stamboul . . . It is enough to make you want to leave immediately for Constantinople.]5
To the right of this vibrant scene – a colorful cross-section of nineteenth-century Turkish society that, this critic suggests, shows Pasini at his best – is the cool blue of the water. The monochrome palette here, uniting sea and sky, is broken only by the white form of a distant mosque. Its distinctive semicircular window and single pencil minaret bears some resemblances to Dolmabahçe, but other features do not comply (fig. 2).6 The fountain seems a product of Pasini’s imagination as well, though aspects of its decoration may have been based on photographs of popular Turkish sites (fig. 3).7 Such effortless synthesis of fact and fiction was typical of Pasini’s compositions, and indeed was one of the qualities that impressed contemporaries the most. “The harmony is so accurate, the drawing so fine, and the animated figures on the steps form such a natural scene,” wrote the critic Jules Castagnary in 1870, “that, on seeing [Pasini’s picture], I wholly forgot my former detestation of orientalism” (Salons, 1892, p. 410).
Several versions of the present work are known, affirming both Pasini’s passion for the subject, and contemporary audience’s enthusiasm for it.8 M.A. Verdé-Delisle, one of the first recorded owners of Faubourg de Constantinople, was a well-known collector of Orientalist art; several pictures by Eugène Fromentin were in the Verdé-Delisle collection.
This catalogue note was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.
1 The Sultan had commissioned four military subjects from the artist for Dolmabahçe Palace; these works, all dated 1868-9, are still included in the Palace collections today.
2 After studying lithography at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Parma, Pasini moved to Paris in 1851 and became a regular contributor to the annual Salon.
Pasini’s interest in Eastern travel may have been indebted to his studies with Théodore Chassériau, and, through the dealer Adolphe Goupil, a meeting with Jean-Léon Gérôme. (Pasini may in fact have acted as tour guide to his beloved Istanbul during Gérôme’s trip to that city in 1875.)
3 Considered the supreme act of charity in Turkey, public fountains were erected by nearly every important personage, and in nearly every neighborhood, from at least the fifteenth century forward. These architectural monuments soon became the favorite gathering places of the local populations (and European artists), and the site of constant activity and interesting encounters.
4 Though his personal politics are not known, Pasini’s focus on female dress – and outdoor dress in particular – may also have been meant to address the freedoms and the strictures surrounding Turkish women at the time.
5 Revue du Ode Catholique, no. 50, Paris, 1877, p. 565. In London, the sentiments were the same: “Un Faubourg de Constantinople (1651) gives the magnificent view by the side of the sea, and the long white line of sunlit wall, with the Sultana’s fountain and its vast eaves, their purple shadow being the darkest feature of the picture, a crowd of men and women on foot and mounted, horses and vehicles, piles of fruit and vegetables, as rich in colour as great enamels might be, while in the mid-distance rise the snow-like mosque and its lofty minaret, and the whole is set, so to say, in the purest atmosphere, and illuminated by the sun without a cloud in the sky. The prodigious brilliancy of this picture entitles it to the closest study. Its lovely harmony of colour has no disturbing element, except that the green watermelons heaped on the ground seem too crude and marble-like, and this is a defect which the luxurious perfection of the painting, as a whole, enables us to feel, as the Sybarite felt the crumpled rose-leaf,” (Athenaeum, no. 2588, June 2, 1877, p. 710). See also The Academy of July 6, 1878, p. 21.
6 The Dolmabahçe Mosque, part of the Dolmabahçe Palace complex and located on the Bosporus, was begun in 1853 under Sultan Abdulmecid. Pasini’s personal connection to the site (see note 1 above) would make his inclusion of it in a painting particularly intriguing.
Other mosques that bear some resemblance to Pasini’s structure include Nusratiye and Cihangir.
7 By 1883, contemporary authors were commenting on Pasini’s use of photography for his paintings (see “Photography in Art,” Studio 1.25, 1883, pp. 272-3).
8 Contracted to sell Pasini’s Orientalist pictures, Goupil alone placed more than 500 into European and American private or gallery collections.
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