Lot 1
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Theodoros Ralli

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Theodoros Ralli
  • Stringing Pearls
  • signed and dated Ralli. 82. lower left
  • oil on canvas
  • 47 by 38cm., 18½ by 15in.


Private collection, Athens


Paris, Salon, 1882, no. 2237 (as L'Eunuque)
Manchester, Royal Manchester Institution, 1882, no. 24 (as An Egyptian Eunuque)
Paris, Exposition Universelle, 1889, no. 27
Cairo, 1891


Charles de Mourgues, Livret illustré du Salon, 1882, Paris, p. 71, illustrated
Gaston Schéfer, 'L'Orient', in L'Exposition des beaux arts, Salon de 1882, Paris, 1882, p. 185, cited; p. 186 (a drawing after the present work illustrated)
Exposition Universelle de Paris, Royaume de Grèce, Paris & London, 1889, pp. 77 & 78 (titled in Greek Eυνούχος διαπερνων μαργαριτας (Eunuch stringing pearls))
Maria Katsanaki, Le peintre Théodore Ralli et son oeuvre, (PhD. diss.), Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, 2007, vol. I, pp. 49 & 92; pp. 363-64, no. 52, catalogued (as L'Eunuque or L'Eunuque enfilant des perles, whereabouts unknown)
Athens, Benaki Museum, Theodoros Ralli, Looking East, 2014 - 2015, exh. cat., p. 62, fig. 28, catalogued & illustrated (as Eunuch Stringing Pearls)

Catalogue Note

Stringing Pearls is a rediscovery in Ralli’s oeuvre, and perfectly captures his exceptional skill at depicting intimate scenes of daily life in Egypt. Seated on an ornamented wooden bench adorned with elegant silk cushions, a Nubian man dressed in yellow silk carefully strings white teardrop pearls into a necklace. Picking them one by one from a small ceramic bowl, he appears fully concentrated on his task, unaware that he has dropped two on the floor. Pearl cultivation and the pearl trade were integral to the Middle East region’s economy before the discovery of oil and gas, and the advent of industrially produced pearls. Fashioned into necklaces and bracelets, or to embellish jewellery, natural pearls supplied from the region were prized by jewellers all around Europe.

Born in Constantinople, Ralli pursued a thoroughly international career. While Paris became his home early on, throughout his life he travelled frequently to Greece and the Middle East, often spending the winter months in Cairo. From the 1870s he trained alongside other foreign painters in the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose legendary draughtsmanship and photographic finish provided a model of perfection Ralli emulated with great success.