JOSÉ BENLLIURE Y GIL
1855 - 1937
INSIDE A COFFEE HOUSE, TUNIS
signed J. Benlliure lower left
oil on canvas
54.5 by 92cm., 21½ by 36in.
Sale: Christie's, London, 24 June 1983, lot 38
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above
Caroline Juler, Les Orientalistes de l'école italienne, Paris, 1987, p. 40, catalogued & illustrated
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, pp. 22-23, catalogued & illustrated
Eduardo Dizy Caso, Les Orientalistes de l'école espagnole, Paris, 1997, p. 37, catalogued & illustrated
José Benlliure Gil (1855-1937), exh.cat., Centre del Carme, Valencia, 2008, p. 85, cited
Berlin, Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung, 1894, no. 100, illustrated in the catalogue (as Maurisches Café in Tunis)
Though the subject of this painting is based on Benlliure's first-hand experience and observation of life in North Africa, the actual composition appears to relate to a curious mise-en-scène captured in a photograph published in 1892 in La Ilustración Española y Americana. This photograph showed a group of Spanish artists dressed in Middle Eastern attire during carnival at the Circolo Artistico Internazionale (International Artists' Circle) in Via Margutta, Rome (fig. 1). The same photo appears to have inspired three further related works of Moorish cafés.
Benlliure y Gil enjoyed the patronage of the King of Savoy from an early age. The Anglo-American art dealer Martin Colnaghi also noticed his talent, and sponsored his studies in Rome in return for a first refusal on all the works he produced. The Spanish Academy in Rome had been a favourite destination for aspiring Spanish artists ever since Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, a cult figure who inspired a generation of Spanish Orientalist artists, founded the Spanish artists' circle there. Following Fortuny's example, in 1887 Benlliure embarked on a journey to Tunis, followed by a trip to Morocco ten years later.