Monday, September 11, 2017

The Orientalists

The best art book on Orientalism was written by Kristian Davies, who I sketched in New York.


Orientalists: Western Artists in Arabia, the Sahara, Persia and India is lavishly illustrated with paintings by leading artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, Ludwig Deutsch, and Leon Belly (whose painting appears on the cover).


He includes a whole chapter on the painting "Zaporozhian Cossacks of Ukraine Writing a Letter in Reply to the Sultan of Turkey" by Ilya Repin (1844-1930), quoting the exact written exchange between the Sultan and the Cossacks. It's too spicy to quote in this blog, but you can read it here.


There's also a chapter telling the story of Gustav Bauernfeind, who created ambitious paintings, yet died unknown in Palestine in 1904.

Davies traveled all over the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa researching his book, and even found many of the locations that the paintings were based on. He shares insight into the actual experience of European artists working in the Near East, including renting market stalls and painting the view seen through little window slits to avoid censure.

The Arab Sentinel by Antonio Maria Fabres y Costa
Unfortunately, most other recent books on Orientalist art repeat the usual angle about the evils of colonialism, and they skip over any meaningful insights about the paintings themselves, how they were created, and how they were received in their day.

Orientalists: Western Artists in Arabia, the Sahara, Persia and India (Link goes to Amazon) is unfortunately out of print and is getting rather expensive, but if you love the subject, it's worth it.
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Previously on GurneyJourney
Arab Guard
Contre Jour Lighting

8 comments:

Meera Rao said...

Thanks for the introduction to this book !!!

Karen Robinson said...

Thank you, I enjoyed this post very much and the link also. We seem to have rather lost the art of the grand, multi-figure panoramic narrative painting. We have certainly lost the art of a good, rounded insult

jeff jordan said...

I've had this book since it first came out, and it's awesome! $75.00 seemed like a fairly large amount, then, but it was $$ well spent. The cost might indicate what a great book it is.

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Sesco said...

I agree with Karen Robinson. There is something majestic, and masterfully skillful in these paintings. At the Virginia Museum of Fine Art we have a large (99.5 x 137 in.) painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903) titled "The Hour Of Prayer At The Pearl Mosque, Agra" that demands my attention each time I attend. I also find these themes exotic and interesting. Wish I could afford such a beautiful book.

James Gurney said...


Mark Vander Vinne left a message on another post, but I think he meant it to go here:

Alberto Pasini is one of my favorite Orientalists. His painting of "Circassian Cavalry Awaiting their Commanding Officer at the Door of a Byzantine Monument; Memory of the Orient", 1880 at the Art Institute of Chicago is a wonder to look at. The detail, yet looseness. His understanding of composition is truly exquisite. The repetition of patterns and shapes to unify the piece still floors me.

You can see it here...or bette yet at the Art Institute of Chicago if you are in the area. It's in Gallery 223, The European Painting and Sculpture

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111736?search_no=1&index=0

P.S. A Market Scene is also an amazing piece of work. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pasini_Alberto_A_Market_Scene.jpg

Ed Heidrach said...

I think the most meaningful insight about Orientalist art is exactly that it helped support the evil of colonialism. Triumph of the Will was a beautiful film, if you like that sort of thing. But its aesthetics don't justify its dreadful message, or what it enabled in later years.

My Pen Name said...

I love this book and got it when it first came out. I got it for the quality of the reproductions but frankly shied away from reading it because so often 'art historians' are very politicized and spend time trying to impose some political or artistic theory on the art (for a hilarious but true analysis of this see books like "The Rape of the Masters" or "the Painted Word"). Davies actually debunks a lot of the broad brush criticism of Orientalist art and takes an honest, sober and insightful look at this genre. I also loved some of the 'outtakes' particularly the mini bios of Sir Richard Francis Burton and other victorian explorers.


"I think the most meaningful insight about Orientalist art is exactly that it helped support the evil of colonialism"
-written by someone who understands neither history or art. Yeah, going making a nice painting of mosque and depicting the humanity of the residents allowed Leopold to march jackbooted through the congo. Tell me, in your own words what is the ' dreadful message' of Sargent's Fumée d'ambre gris.