Interest in the different peoples of the globe preoccupied French society in the nineteenth-century. The fields of anthropology and ethnology became increasingly high profile. Exhibitions which showcased living people from other regions of the world drew huge crowds. Chiefly concerned with the search for beauty in all peoples, Cordier wrote in 1865 before his trip to Egypt, ‘I wish to present the race just as it is, in its own beauty, absolutely true to life, with its passions, its fatalism, in its quiet pride and conceit, in its fallen grandeur, but the principles of which have remained since antiquity’ (as quoted by Margerie, op. cit., p. 28). Few contemporary commentators, with the exception of writers such as Victor Hugo, the Abbé Grégoire, and Madame de Staël, offered such enlightened views. In his official role at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Cordier embarked on a number of government sponsored missions to different parts of the world in order to record a series of modern racial types in sculpture. He travelled to Algeria in 1856, where he modelled his famous Mauresque d’Alger chantant (Moorish Woman of Algiers Singing) and to Egypt in 1866, where he conceived the present, highly celebrated model, Cheik Arabe du Caire (Arab Sheik of Cairo).
L. de Margerie and É. Papet, Facing the Other. Charles Cordier. Ethnographic Sculptor, exh. cat. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Québec City, and Dahesh Museum of Art, New York, 2004, pp. 80-81, 154-155, nos. 85-97
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