- Ludwig Deutsch
- The Inspection
- signed L. Deutsch and dated 1883 (upper right)
- oil on panel
Private Collection, New York (acquired circa 1950s)
Thence by descent through the family to the present owner
Ludwig Deutsch is today one of the most recognized Orientalist painters of the nineteenth century, acclaimed for his highly detailed, exquisitely rendered images of daily life in Cairo. After studying at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, Austrian-born Deutsch settled in the thriving art capital of Paris, where he joined his compatriot and fellow Orientalist painter, Rudolf Ernst (see lot 13). Between 1879 and 1883, Deutsch exhibited portraits and genre scenes at the Salon, but after 1883 he drew inspiration almost exclusively from his travels to Egypt. Deutsch was thought to have visited Egypt as many as five times between 1883 and 1904. He made many on-the-spot sketches which he brought back to his studio in Paris. From these sketches and the large collection of Near Eastern artifacts, mashrabiyyah woodwork, and painted tiles that decorated his studios in Paris and the South of France, Deutsch created numerous visual accounts of his experiences. His incredible artistic skill together with his choice of subject set him apart from many of his contemporaries: "Deutsch has a keen eye for small gestures and individual expressions that give his people life and character. The themes he chose are quiet and peaceful: domino- and chess-players, Muslims at prayer, public scribes, armed guards, street entertainers, and merchants..." (quoted in Orientalism, Delacroix to Klee, exh. cat., The Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997, p. 240).
The Inspection, painted in Deutsch's Paris studio after his first expedition to Cairo, is a visual tour de force, showcasing the artist's tremendous artistic skill and breathtaking attention to detail. The dazzling barrage of objects and textiles – patterns against patterns, details within details – conveys Deutsch's new fascination with Eastern visual culture, the various items an homage to the remarkable craftsmanship he witnessed during his travels. Here Deutsch shows an Arab man in a striped kaftan and turban examining a late Indian or Qajar Iranian helmet, with two Ottoman-style pistols in his belt. Another pistol and a sword with a flared ivory grip called a yataghan lie on the inlaid mother-of-pearl table. A bow harp is subtly visible beside the figure's embroidered shoe, an interesting addition to a scene otherwise filled with weapons. An ostrich egg also lies on the floor, next to a manuscript in an Ottoman gilt-stamped leather binding. The architecture and design in the background are a composite of various periods and styles, the wood panels of the door perhaps belonging to the Ayyubi-early Bahri Mamluk period (12th-14th c.) and the green tiles on the wall reflective of the Ottoman period (17th-18th c.). Throughout the composition, Deutsch's mastery is apparent in his ability to convey various textures and surfaces, from the heavy, satiny smoothness of the wall length brocade textile on the right, to the rubbed patina of the ancient carved doorway on the left. Color is even used deliberately – as the viewer visually travels through the scene, the eye is drawn to the bright blue embroidered fabric strategically placed on the mother-of-pearl table and just below it on the ground. Even the figure's skin is painstakingly rendered, the dusty dryness of his hands contrasted with the sheen of his fingernails, his slightly cracked lower lip indicative of the arid landscape. The Inspection reflects Deutsch at his most technically compelling; the intimate yet incredibly detailed scene promises endless visual discoveries for the viewer.
We would to thank Caroline Williams for providing additional information for this catalogue entry.