ARTHUR MELVILLE, A.R.S.A., R.S.W. A.R.S.
A CAIRO COFFEE STALL
signed, inscribed and dated l.l.: Arthur Melville/ Cairo 1881.
38 by 53.5cm., 15 by 21in.
This work has not been laid down. The sheet is hinged to the mount with two pieces of acid-free tape verso. The sheet undulates slightly. The work is in excellent overall condition and strong colour.
Held in a simple gilt frame and cream mount. Under glass. Please note that this work has been examined out of its frame.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE.
John Tullis Esq., Glasgow, thence by descent;
W. B. Simpson, Glasgow, titled An Eastern Bazaar;
Peter Nahum at the Leicester Galleries, London;
Bonhams, Edinburgh, 7 December 2007, lot 53, where purchased by the present owner
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1882, no.722, listed as A Cairo coffee-house;
Glasgow, The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1884, no.896;
London, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, 1885;
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1905, no.65, lent by John Tullis Esq.;
London, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, Exhibition of Collected works of Arthur Melville, 1906, no.123
A.E. Mackay, Arthur Melville Scottish Impressionist, 1951, p.129;
I. Gale, Arthur Melville, Edinburgh, 1996, p.96
One measure of a talented artist is the ability to work in different environments, and in this respect few come close to the wide-ranging career of Arthur Melville. The striking epithet of ‘artist-adventurer’ is no exaggeration for the revolutionary watercolourist, whose remarkable travels took him from Angus to Venice, Barbizon to Baghdad, Glasgow to Granada. In Autumn 1881 Melville journeyed to Cairo intending to stay in the east for two months; captivated by the intense light and colourful chaos, his painting kept him there for two years.
The present work is an accomplished example of Melville’s great innovation: the watercolour fusion of Impressionism and realism. Cairo’s severe brightness and the ‘absolutely suffocating’ heat which Melville complained of in letters home is palpable. Listless men press themselves against the shade of an intricately latticed wall, looking out with curiosity towards the Scot suffering en plein air before them. Melville’s mastery of the medium is evident as much in the rich blues and reds that punctuate the dun and dusty surfaces as in his assiduous handling of detail: the exposed backs of the attendants, the lethargic arm suspending the pipe, the steam rising from the dainty coffee pot.
A Cairo Coffee Stall was originally acquired by one of Melville’s principal early supporters, the leather goods manufacturer John Tullis. The owner of three Egyptian works, Tullis was one of several important patrons with trade interests abroad – undeterred by the scarcity of contemporary Orientalist works exhibited in Scotland – who esteemed Melville’s vivid eastern compositions. Today noteworthy examples of Melville’s skilful handling of Cairo’s light and life, from the busy movement of A Cairo Street (1883) to the deep, soft shadows of An Arab Interior (1881), can be found in important collections such as the Fleming-Wyfold Foundation and the Scottish National Gallery respectivley.
We are gratefull to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present lot.