Lot 6
  • 6

Émile Vernet-Lecomte

60,000 - 80,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Émile Vernet-Lecomte
  • Travelling Artists sketching an Arab Encampment, Cairo
  • signed E Lecomte, inscribed Caire, and dated 1863  (lower left)

  • oil on canvas
  • 25 1/5 by 41 1/3 in.
  • 64 by 105 cm


Sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 14, 1976, lot 34


Lynne Thornton, The Orientalists, Painters-Travellers, Paris, 1994, p. 176


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This canvas has been lined and restored fairly recently however, the varnish is very heavy and the restoration does not appear to reflect the actual condition of the picture. The paint layer is not abraded and the details in all of the figures and the bulk of the remainder of the picture are well preserved. In the upper left sky there is a broad and lazy restoration which most likely attempts to disguise a fairly small damage, measuring approximately one or two inches. The restoration is considerably broader and not well matched. In the shadowed area inside the tree above the bulk of the trunk there is another restoration which is also extremely broadly applied and if reexamined, could be much more accurately applied to what may well be a considerably smaller area than has been restored. A reexamination of the restoration should be considered. The remainder of the picture is very well preserved.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Émile Vernet-Lecomte was born into a dynasty of artists: his father Hippolyte Lecomte, grandfather Carle Vernet, and uncle Horace Vernet were all renowned for their military, history, and Orientalist works. (Such a lineage has easily confused Émile's proper name. The artist exhibited early work under the name Émile Lecomte, later taking the name Émile Vernet-Lecomte, which was then often inverted by inaccurate Paris Salon catalogues) (Thornton, p. 176).  While Vernet-Lecomte painted diverse subjects from society portraits to religious works, in 1847 he began to exhibit Orientalist subjects for which he is perhaps best remembered.  Many of these compositions are portraits of women, often idealized visions remarkable both for their fine detail and breathtaking beauty (see lot 5). While these beautiful images often amalgamated various costumes and objects from the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Greece, the present work focuses on Egypt. While there are no known recorded details of Vernet-Lecomte's journeys to Egypt, the immediacy of the present work, coupled with the inscription of Caire strongly suggest he traveled to the region in the 1860s (Thornton, p. 176). Throughout the nineteenth century European and American artists travelled to Egypt on well established routes, inspiring numerous works depicting the daily life and traditions of the native people—some more accurately than others.  Yet Vernet-Lecomte's composition is a particularly fascinating and rare depiction of a Western artist active in the landscapes he visited.  In the present work a bearded man sketches alongside his companion, the pair dressed in finely tailored, light colored suits.  The subject of the sketch is a resting camp of travelers made up of elderly men, women, and children and their pair of camels who all sit beneath the cooling canopy of a giant tree, possibly a sycamore fig, its purple-red fruit collected in a basket. Though placed at the painting's margin, the artist's sketching does not go unnoticed by the group. Traveling artists' sketches were important and portable records of experiences abroad, critical to the success of a painted composition finished in the home studio (see lot 4).  It is likely that Vernet-Lecomte would have incorporated a disparate series of works done en plein air to complete the present work and its fine details of the figures' costumes and objects, the sweeping horizon of Cairo's landmark buildings, and color contrasts of yellow sun-baked earth and hazy purple sky.