Orientalism: Crossing Continents

Orientalism: Crossing Continents

O rientalism was a truly pan-European, even - taking into account its American exponents - transatlantic genre.

Artists hailed from Scotland, England, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia, united in their quest for new experiences and subjects in North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, as well as a ready and eager market for this novel genre in their home countries. These entrepreneurial artists were among the most socially mobile the world had ever seen, making not only unprecedented journeys to the East, but within Europe too, either to further their artistic training or lured by the promise of a good living.


Many Spanish Orientalists, for instance, including Antonio Fabres y Costa and José Benlliure, gravitated to the Spanish Academy in Rome where, inspired by Mariano Fortuny, they produced some of their most important paintings.

However, arguably the hub of academic Orientalist art was Paris, where Jean-Léon Gérôme’s reputation as the preeminent Orientalist preceded him, his public profile bolstered by his regular Salon submissions of which Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert from the Najd Collection and now being offered as a highlight of this year’s Orientalist Sale, is a prime example.

Gérôme’s fame and success acted as a powerful magnet for Orientalist painters from far and wide in the 1860s and 1870s, many of whom, including the American Frederick Arthur Bridgman, whose Towing on the Nile from the Najd Collection is included in the sale, and the Swiss Eugène Girardet, cut their teeth under his tutelage.

Gustave Boulanger, The Prayer. Estimate: 28,000 - 36,000 GBP

Some of these students went on to exhibit alongside their master at the annual Paris Salon – Girardet’s The Water Carriers, Tangiers in the sale, for example, was shown at the Salon of 1878. Another painter attracted to Paris was the Ottoman polymath Osman Hamdy Bey who studied under another renowned academic painter, Gustave Boulanger, and went on to become the first Turkish artist to embrace the French academic style of painting.

However, by far the greatest and most important migration of Orientalist painters to the French capital was from Austria in the later 1870s and 1880s. Having received an excellent training at the Vienna Academy under the father of Austrian Orientalism, Leopold Carl Müller, and eager to benefit from the public traction and prestige Orientalism was enjoying in France, the likes of Ludwig Deutsch, Rudolf Ernst, Karl Wilda, and Arthur von Ferraris established successful and above all lucrative careers in Paris, capitalizing on the success of their French (and French-trained) colleagues and playing them at their own game.

Ludwig Deutsch, The Water Seller. Estimate: 80,000 - 120,000 GBP

Deutsch and Ernst, friends from student days and travel companions in Egypt, took studios in rue Le Peletier in the 9th and rue de Humboldt in the 19th arrondissements, respectively, and quickly became part of the Parisian artistic establishment, exhibiting their Orientalist subjects at the Salons and enjoying the patronage of the newly wealthy bourgeoisie.

Clearly inspired by Gérôme, Deutsch in particular took the latter’s rigorous draughtsmanship and eye for detail to new levels, as seen in The Water Seller and The Sentinel in the sale, both from the Najd Collection. And such was the kudos attached to ‘French’ Orientalism that he would often inscribe his works ‘Paris’ as if more validation were needed. Others, like Karl Wilda, even took to gallicising their names, in his case signing his paintings ‘Charles’.

Orientalist Paintings

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