Ippolito Caffi’s The Golden Horn (1844), part of the upcoming Orientalist sale. Estimate 100,000 GBP - 150,000 GBP.


LONDON - Fiction rarely upstages real life. The only case where imagination was given free rein with remarkable, enhancing results was in the work of Orientalist painters. Vilified for a brief spell by the followers of Edward Said’s anti-Orientalist movement, the paintings themselves have remained an enduring testament to the powers of observation of these sometimes hyper-realist artists. It must have been a unique, glorious pleasure to transport the exotic Levant into one’s drawing room by acquiring a Deutsch, an Ingres or an Ernst! The popularity of these works continues undiminished, and the strongest buyers are sometimes in the very regions depicted with so much licence. The modern Middle East today owns it own history and is no longer shackled by fictive representations. Or is it? Whatever the case, these nineteenth century paintings have a special appeal to all those who view them.


Rudolf Ernst's Return from the Tiger Hunt. Estimate 80,000 GBP - 120,000 GBP.


In a pre-photography age, these painter-travellers to the East would attempt to bring back the ‘perfumes of Arabia’ by means of their accurate yet sometimes fictional compositions. Since they rarely had access to their subjects, their pictures and portraits relied mostly on assumptions. Women’s harems barred to visitors, reclining nudes no one had set eyes on, caricatured types and a lavish opulence far shinier than its reality captured imaginations and constructed Western perceptions. That said, certain painters such as Lewis also depicted remarkably accurate scenes and landscapes. Today the appetite for these tableaux is just as strong.

Following the success of the April 2012 Orientalist sale where close to £8m was sold in London, growing international demand for this category of work has resulted in another sale planned exactly a year later. Already consigned are a number of important works, including paintings by Andre Deutsch, Rudolf Ernst, Alberto Pasini and Etienne Dinet. This is one case where I willingly ‘suspend disbelief’ (to quote the famous expression) and simply revel in the lush canvases that depict my region.  April can’t come too soon.