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Details & Cataloguing

Najd Collection, Part II

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London

Jean-Léon Gérôme
1824 - 1904
FRENCH
EGYPTIAN RECRUITS CROSSING THE DESERT
signed and dated J.L.GEROME1857 lower right
oil on canvas
62 by 106cm., 24¼ by 41¾in.

We are grateful to Dr Emily M. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work which will be included in her revision of the artist's catalogue raisonné by Gerald M. Ackerman.

Provenance

Possibly, Goupil & Cie. (by 1866, the present work or its reduction)
Possibly, Van Walchren Van Wadenoyen, The Hague (acquired from the above on 19 April 1866, the present work or its reduction)
Goupil & Cie., Paris (by 1869)
Salomon Goldschmidt, Paris (purchased from the above in 1871; his sale: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 14-17 May 1898)
Mrs Marshall A. Robert, New York (by 1967 or 1968)
Sale: Christie's, London, 16 March 1979, lot 196
Sale: Christie's, London, 20 March 1981, lot 100
Kurt E. Schon, Ltd., New Orleans, Louisiana
Coral Petroleum, Inc., Texas (sale: Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 1985, lot 36)
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above

Exhibited

Paris, Salon, 1857, no. 1157 (as Recrues égyptiennes traversant le désert)
Possibly, New York, French Gallery, The First Exhibition of Paintings by Artists of the French School in New York, 1857, no. 89, included in the catalogue (the present work or its reduction)
London, Royal Academy of Art; Washington, D. C. , The National Gallery, The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, 1984, no. 27, illustrated in the catalogue
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung; Brussels, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique; Marseille, Centre de la Vieille Charité; Orientalismus in Europa: Von Delacroix bis Kandinsky, 2011, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

Théophile Gautier, 'Salon de 1857 (IV)', in L'Artiste, 14 June 1857, p. 191
Théophile Gautier, 'Salon de 1857 (IV): MM Gérôme, Mottez', in L'Artiste, 5 July 1857, p. 247
Possibly, Goupil stock book vol. 3, 1866, no. 2051 (the present work or its reduction listed)
E. Galichon, 'M. Gérôme, Peintre ethnographe', in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, I, 1868, p. 149
Charles Timbal, 'Les Artistes contemporains: Gérôme (étude biographique)', in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, no. 14, 1876, p. 335
Frédéric Vors, 'Jean-Léon Gérôme', in The Art Amateur, 1.4, September 1879, p. 71
Fanny Field Hering, Gérôme, His Life and Work, New York, 1892, pp. 65, 66 & 80 (quoting Gautier, in his 1857 article describing canvases painted for the 1857 Salon)
Possibly, Fanny Field Hering, Gérôme, His Life and Work, New York, 1892, p. 27 (quoting Gautier in his 1857 article, 'Gérôme: Pictures, Studies, Sketches of Travel')
Gerald M. Ackerman & Richard Ettinghausen, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dayton, Ohio, 1972, p. 38, cited (and apparently confused with exhibited work, no. 6)
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 1986, p. 45, catalogued & illustrated, p. 46, described, pp. 198-99, no. 67, catalogued & illustrated (mistakenly as on panel)
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme: His Life, His Work, Paris, 1997, p. 47, catalogued & illustrated, pp. 47-48, described
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 127, catalogued & illustrated, p. 129, described
Lynne Thornton, Du Maroc Aux Indes, Voyages en Orient, Paris, 1998, p. 152 (mistakenly as on panel)
Gérôme & Goupil, Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, p. 113, no. 61 (a photogravure of the present work or of its reduction illustrated), p. 115, no. 61 (the present work catalogued), p. 34, cited, p. 110, cited, p. 158 (a photogravure of the present work or of its reduction illustrated), p. 165, cited
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon GérômeMonographie révisée, Paris, 2000, p. 44, described, p. 45, catalogued & illustrated (mistakenly as on panel), pp. 230-31, no. 67, catalogued & illustrated (mistakenly as on panel)
Alan C. Braddock, Displacing Orientalism: Thomas Eakins and Ethnographic Modernity, Ph.D. diss, University of Delaware, 2002, p. 59 and passim
Peter Benson Miller, 'Gérôme and Ethnographic Realism at the Salon of 1857' in Reconsidering Gérôme, eds. Scott Allan and Mary Morton, Los Angeles, 2010, p. 156, pl. 8, catalogued & illustrated (mistakenly as on panel), pp. 107, 112, 113, 115, 117, discussed
The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), exh. cat., Los Angeles, Paris, Madrid, 2010, pp. 97 & 183, cited (confused with reduction on panel), p. 198, cited, p. 226, no. 103, catalogued & illustrated (mistakenly as on panel), p. 270, cited
Peter Benson Miller, 'John Frederick Lewis at the Exposition Universelle' in The Poetics and Politics of Place: Ottoman Istanbul and British Orientalism, eds. Zeynep Inankur, Reina Lewis, and Mary Roberts, Istanbul, 2011, pp. 263, 267 & 268, described

Catalogue Note

Against the unforgiving and harsh terrain of the Egyptian desert, a corvée of handcuffed fellaheen recruits, padlocked and under guard, are led across a sandstorm to their uncertain fate. Escorted by Arnaut guards, the prisoners are perhaps being led as forced conscripts to join the Khalif army or to labour on the excavations for the Suez Canal.

Painted in 1857 and exhibited at that year’s Salon, Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert was executed at the height of Gérôme’s powers, following his first trip to Egypt in 1856 with sculptor and photographer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. During that trip, the two men witnessed the forced enrolment of a corvée by the Arnauts in Asyut.

Even in the unremitting heat of the desert, Gérôme paints with an objectivity that evokes compassion and admiration for the conscripts, who stand defiant as they struggle with nothing but a flat, white desert landscape to relieve their plight. The contrast between the precision of the figures in the foreground and the prisoners in the distance who are almost completely covered by the dust storm, testifies to the artist's great mastery of both vision and medium.

Gérôme has skillfully played on his reputation for accuracy through the precise attention to detail he pays to the dress of the figures in the foreground. The first row includes fellaheen, Copts, and a Nubian clothed in either blue shirts, brown mach’lahs or white burnouses. Théophile Gautier was struck by the stark realism of these figures when he first saw the work in Gérôme’s studio and wrote at the time: ‘The artist-traveller has made numerous pencil portrait studies of different characteristic types; there are fellahs, Copts, Arabs, negroes of mixed blood from Sanandaj and from Kordofan – so exactly observed that they could be used in the anthropological treatises of M. Serres.’  

The conception of Gérôme’s painting was based not only on his usual sketches but also on photographs he had taken with Bartholdi in 1856. A photograph from the Gérôme/Morot Collection at the Musée d’Orsay shows a male model posing in Arnaut dress (fig. 1) in an identical pose to the Arnaut here, leading recruits with a rifle slung across both shoulders. The photographs, likely taken on the roof or terrace of the artist’s studio in Paris, were crucial in helping Gérôme capture the patterns of light and shadow on the skirt, particularly at high noon. The model wears the white pleated kilt, a uniform with which Gérôme was deeply familiar and which was adopted by Albanians and the military caste of the Bashi-Bazouks. Arnauts pervaded his work from the late 1850s onwards and, although they were meant as authentic figures of Ottoman life, could also be more of a literary conceit, in some cases representing figures of Ottoman despotism. In The Prisoner (fig. 2), it is of course an Arnaut who, with a certain cruelty, leans over the man lying bound in the bottom of the boat.

Gérôme painted a smaller version of the present work (sold Christie’s, London 15 June 2005, and since the 1860s either conflated with, or mistaken for, the Salon painting), as well as an unfinished oil of the leading Arnaut guard. Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert was published as a photogravure by Goupil & Co. in 1877.

Najd Collection, Part II

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London