Important Works from the Najd Collection
Important Works from the Najd Collection
signed L. Deutsch lower left
oil on panel
70 by 100cm., 27½ by 39in.
We are grateful to Dr Emily M. Weeks for her assistance in cataloguing this work which will be included in her critical catalogue of the artist's Egyptian and Orientalist works, currently in progress.
Sale: Christie's, London, 3 November 1977, lot 77
Mathaf Gallery, London (by 1984)
Purchased from the above
The Orientalists, London, Academy Editions, 1979, fig. 19, catalogued & illustrated
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes: peintres voyageurs, 1828-1908, Paris, 1983, pp. 214-15, catalogued & illustrated
Philip Hook and Mark Poltimore, Popular 19th Century Paintings, A Dictionary of European Genre Painters, Woodbridge, 1986, p. 57, catalogued & illustrated
Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 50, discussed; p. 70, catalogued & illustrated
Caroline Williams, 'Jean-Léon Gérôme: A Case Study of an Orientalist Painter' in Sara Webber, ed., Fantasy or Ethnography?, Papers in Comparative Studies, vol. 8, Ohio State University, 1995, p. 147, described, note 75
Lynne Thornton, Les Orientalistes, peintres voyageurs 1828-1908, Paris, 2001, p. 241, catalogued & illustrated
Nezar AlSayyad, et al., Making Cairo Medieval, Lanham, Maryland, 2005, pp. 117-18, described & illustrated
London, Mathaf Gallery, Spring Exhibition of Important Orientalist Paintings of the 19th Century, 1984, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue
Sydney, The Art Gallery of New South Wales; Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery, Orientalism: Delacroix to Klee, 1997-98, no. 55, illustrated in the catalogue
The Tribute is a landmark work of Orientalism. While Deutsch is celebrated for his masterfully observed single figures (of which the Najd Collection includes leading examples), the present work is arguably the most ambitious in the artist’s oeuvre until The Procession of the Mahmal through the Streets of Cairo (sold in Sotheby’s Orientalist Sale in 2017). Painted in 1909 in a radically different Post-Impressionistic style, that work exemplifies a new departure in the artist’s career, whose origins - whether driven by necessity or a desire to experiment - remain unclear. It may of course be that after the present composition, Deutsch came to feel that he had produced his definitive work in his signature, painstakingly detailed style.
Having appeared at auction in 1977, the present work has long been a reference point in Deutsch’s enduringly obscure career. The emergence of the one other known version of the composition in Sotheby’s Orientalist Sale in 2013 (now in the Shafik Gabr Collection) allows for illuminating comparisons. The two compositions are near identical apart from small variations, and both are executed on panel. The use of wood panel as an artist’s support was uncommon in the late nineteenth century, especially for larger compositions; however Deutsch and his fellow Austrian Orientalists favoured the smooth and even surface that allowed them to explore the finest details. Signed and dated ‘Paris 1897’, that version was also slightly smaller at 61.5 by 80cm. One of these must have been exhibited at that year’s Paris Salon as The Tribute; from the dating of the other version it may be inferred that that in fact was the Salon work; the somewhat indistinct image in the Salon catalogue appears to support this assertion. The present work should therefore be seen as a commission from a patron who wanted to own a larger version of the Salon work, making it the culmination of Deutsch’s ambitions for his masterpiece.
Rich in details, the work defines the ‘constructed realism’ of which Deutsch was the master. A cortège of four figures approaches an entrance guarded by a Nubian sentinel to pay their tributes. Leading the retinue is a bearded elder with an elaborately patterned turban and babouche slippers; in his hand he bears a scroll in a protective case; its message can only be guessed. Following behind are a nobleman and a soldier. The soldier wearing the peacock-feather helmet carries a Persian Qajar ivory-hilted jambiya in his belt and an Ottoman shamshir sword with a curved blade in his hand. They are accompanied by a servant carrying the gifts to be presented, including a Qajar gold-overlaid helmet and an Ottoman yataghan as worn by the Janissary Guard. The well-armed sentinel standing guard, his yataghan exposed, carries not only a kindjal dagger but an Ottoman flintlock pistol and a powder flask in his belt. The entrance itself, presumably to a palace, incorporates many architectural elements from the portal of the Mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo, a site which inspired other Orientalist painters, notably David Roberts and John Frederick Lewis. While Deutsch may well have seen and sketched the mosque in Cairo, it is also likely that he used contemporary photographs in his collection such as those taken by the Armenian photographer Gabriel Lékégian.
In addition to Deutsch’s hyper-realist technique the work undoubtedly derives some of its power from its reference to art history. The three men at the centre of the composition recall traditions in Christian art around the Adoration of the Magi, moving forward to bear their gifts to the Christ Child. The standing guard on the steps (a tableau in himself), has the fearsome potential of the sword-bearer in Henri Regnault’s Summary Execution under the Moorish Kings of Grenada of 1870. The matching colour of the man’s drapery here suggests Deutsch may have been thinking of Regnault's celebrated painting.
Deutsch was the leading Orientalist painter of the Austrian school, which also included Rudolf Ernst, Arthur von Ferraris, and Rudolf Weisse. He trained at the Vienna Academy in 1872 but settled in Paris in 1878, where he studied with the history painter Jean-Paul Laurens and honed his highly academic style. Deutsch began travelling regularly to Egypt in 1883, and Orientalist subjects dominated his oeuvre from this time on, earning him unprecedented praise. In 1900, three years after showing the composition at the Salon, Deutsch received a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and later the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. The polished surfaces and hallucinatory realism of his paintings were founded on a vast collection of photographs he amassed in Cairo. Deutsch also acquired hundreds of props while abroad, which dressed his Paris studio and which are featured in many of his paintings.