THEODOROS RALLI | Charmeuse de Serpents




Charmeuse de Serpents
signed and dated Ralli 82 lower left
oil on canvas
65.5 by 92.5 cm., 25¾ by 36.5in.

Price Available Upon Request

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Sale: Christie's, London, 22 July 1977, lot 152
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owner; thence by descent

Charmeuse de Serpents is among Ralli's most accomplished orientalist works, by virtue of its sensuousness and narrative. Caressing a snake on her shoulders, an almeh girl performs her dance to a mesmerized audience. Almeh, from the Arabic ‘learned woman’, was the name for a class of female entertainers in Egypt. Trained in dancing, singing and poetry, almehs (Arabic plural awalim) were present at festivals and entertainments and also hired as mourners at funerals. 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. It is certainly following in his master’s footsteps, and with the latter’s 1863 La Danse de l’almée (Dayton Art Museum) in mind, that Ralli painted Charmeuse de serpents.

Although ethnographical precision and exactitude were Ralli’s guiding principles, and while it is likely that Ralli made the acquaintance of almeh women in Egypt just as Gérôme had, in its carefully choreographed theatricality Charmeuse de serpents also reveals a degree of artistic licence and imagination.

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