Hector Brame, Paris (by 1879)
Private Collection, California (sale: Christie's, New York, 24 May 1989, lot 32)
Dr Edward T. Wilson, Maryland (purchased at the above sale; sale: Sotheby's, New York, 18 April 2008, lot 130)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Eugène Fromentin, 'Une Année dans le Sahel', Sahara et Sahel, vol. II, Paris, 1887, p. 350, the engraving illustrated
Barbara Wright & James Thompson, Eugène Fromentin, Paris, 2008, p. 387, illustrated
Le Simoun is among the most iconic images in nineteenth-century Orientalist art, one of a handful of smaller versions of Fromentin's extraordinary painting of 1864, the Coup de vent dans les plaines d'alfa (fig. 1).
Silhouetted against an ominous sky, their burnouses billowing out of control, the men brace themselves against the simoun (the hot, dry, sand-laden windstorms of the North African and Arabian deserts) with well-practiced determination. The wild eyes of the two bay horses indicate their fear, as they seek solace in whatever source they can. The grey Arab, with his powerful hindquarters and muscular, arched neck, appears more assured; his head is bowed in order to protect his eyes from the unforgiving winds, and his hooves are firmly planted. The earthward stare of both horse and rider seems also to ground them, and imparts on the pyramidal group a sense of reassuring stoicism. They will successfully brave this storm - and probably many more.
Fromentin's expert skill at rendering the intransient subtleties of nature was noted by the critic Théophile Gautier as early as 1859; commenting on one of Fromentin's contributions to the Salon of that year he wrote, 'One would think that the wind could not be painted, being a colourless and formless thing, yet it blows visibly through M. Fromentin's picture' ('Salon de 1859', Le Moniteur, 28 May, 1859). Such evocative scenes were the result of first-hand experiences processed, as Fromentin wrote, 'through memory,' and the visual expressions of a very particular aesthetic and personal philosophy. Fromentin was one of the first major artists to spend extended periods of time in Algeria after the defeat of the Emir Abd al-Qadir at the hands of the French in the 1840s, making his debut as an Orientalist painter in the 1847 Paris Salon.
We are grateful to Dr Emily M. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work.
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