Lot 84
  • 84

Ludwig Deutsch

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ludwig Deutsch
  • The Scholars
  • signed L. Deutsch, inscribed Paris and dated 1901 (lower left)
  • oil on panel
  • 25 3/8 by 19 3/8 in.
  • 64.4 by 49.2 cm


Sale: Christie's, London, November 28, 1986, lot 102, illustrated
Mathaf Gallery, London
Acquired from the above, circa 1987


Lynne Thornton, The Orientalists: Painter-Travellers, Paris, 1994, illustrated p. 70

Catalogue Note

Despite the startling clarity of his paintings, and his position at the center of an entire school of Austrian Orientalist painting, the details of Ludwig Deutsch’s life remain elusive and vague.  He entered the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna in 1872, and settled in Paris in 1878.  After studying with the history painter Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), Deutsch developed a taste for the theatrical and the dramatic, and mastered an intensely realistic style.  Rather than focusing on subjects with a narrative or anecdotal quality, Deutsch took a far more modern approach, isolating and scrutinizing particular moments in time.  Indeed, his paintings throughout his career consciously avoid the picturesque and verge instead on the cinematic, seamlessly combining the spectacular and the impossibly still. 

Probably in 1883, and more certainly in 1886, 1890, and 1898, Deutsch traveled to Egypt.  Orientalist subject matter dominated his artwork from this time forward, and earned him unprecedented praise.  In 1900, Deutsch received a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and, later, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.  The polished surfaces and hallucinatory realism of his paintings were facilitated by an enormous collection of photographs amassed in Cairo, many of them purchased from the studio of G. Lékégian.  Deutsch also acquired hundreds of decorative objets while abroad, which furnished both his Paris studio at 11 rue Navarin and the Orientalist pictures he produced there.  (In addition to this residence, which he maintained between 1885 and 1905, Deutsch also kept a house and “Oriental” studio in the South of France.) 

Having already established himself as the premier painter of Arab guards and sentinels, Deutsch embarked on a new theme in the late 1890s – that of the Arab literati.  Pensive images of letter-writers, scribes, and the ‘ulama (scholars of Islam and Islamic law) abound in Deutsch’s mature paintings, a reflection, perhaps, of the artist’s increasing erudition about Middle Eastern (and particularly Egyptian) culture, and the importance that literacy was known to have in the region since the reforms of the Egyptian Pasha Muhammad ‘Ali decades before. 

In The Scholars, painted in 1901, three young ‘ulama contemplate illuminated manuscripts of various kinds.  They each wear the typical imamah, or turban, of their respected station: this consisted of a taqiyah, or close-fitting cap, red cloth tarboosh (distinguished by its black tassel), and long piece of white muslin, wound round the head.  (The color of this cloth indicates that these men are not Sayyids, or descendants of the Prophet; such ethnographic precision was typical of Deutsch.)  The slender figure on the left wears a belt, or hizam, around his striped silk qumbaz, and the same red morocco leather slippers as his colleagues.  This detail suggests that the men have not gathered in a mosque or other religious space to perform their studies — shoes would have been prohibited here — but rather in an elite private residence of some kind.  The dulab, or built-in wooden bookcase, emphasizes this point: though similar cupboards can be found in Mamluk-era mosques in Egypt (cf. Umm Sultan Sha’aban on Cairo’s Darb al-Ahmar), these tend not to have the higher level open arcade, used for displaying ceramics and other collectible items.  This ornate architectural accessory was a favorite compositional motif of Deutsch’s, as was the Afshar carpet and the mother-of-pearl inlaid trunk.

This catalogue note was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks.