If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Orientalists

The Orientalists

pyramids road, Gizah
 'The Pyramids Road, Gizah' by Edward Lear, British. Oil, 1873

As great art has the power to change the lives of those who create it; so it has the power to change the lives of those of us who view it.

The story of the Orientalists is a story of life. Of their lives and what they strove to accomplish and what they loved; and the story of the people they met and the places they recorded.

In July of 1798 Napoleon marched into Egypt with an army. He defeated the Turks at the battle of the Pyramids, stayed for a few weeks and then was driven out by the British. In the small amount of time that he was there he managed to do what he did best: he changed everything.

Following him came first a trickle and then a torrent of westerners into the Near and Middle East. The writers who wrote about their experiences and the artists who painted what they saw became known as the Orientalists. They traveled through Turkey, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Arabia and North Africa. With time this became an art movement and today we call it Orientalist art.

This movement spanned over a century and included hundreds of known artists. Many of them were giants of the art world and created beautiful paintings that seem almost photographic in detail.

Many of them took incredible risks and endured considerable hardship. Disease was the greatest hazard and gun battles with bandits were commonplace. At other times they were received with the greatest kindness and made lasting friendships.

They came from all over the world: from England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Russia, America, and Australia. Some of them specialized in landscapes, in archeological themes, or in people. Some of them were very religious and created biblical scenes, some specialized in military history.

Others recorded the flora and fauna of the Near and Middle East. Encompassing many different painting styles and political leanings, the only generalization that can be made about them is that they were extremely diverse.

One common thread unites them; all who went were changed by the experience. From Charles Gleyre lying on the deck of a ship in the Mediterranean so sick that the captain and crew discussed if he were still alive or not, to Etienne Dinet making his pilgrimage to Mecca, the journey affected these men deeply.

Some even died there and others remembered their travels with crystalline clarity to the end of their lives. As great art has the power to change the lives of the those who create it; so it has the power to change the lives of those of us who view it.

Orientalist Art

The Orientalist art movement, although a predominantly 19th century phenomenon started in the time of the Renaissance and continued throughout the years emerging in the 21st century seen through new forms and techniques. Themes and places of interest to Orientalist artists span the geographical areas of Middle Eastern and North African Islamic countries. 

However, Orientalism as an art movement cannot be associated with any particular European country nor encapsulated in any of the local ‘schools’, as throughout the centuries it was exercised by different Western cultures who documented their experiences of extraordinary meetings with inhabitants of the ‘other’. 

Orientalism as a historical and cultural event has been uniting various aspects of cultural life for a number of centuries, including literature, fine arts, architecture, music, and philosophy, and has generated an exotic image within our consciousness, one that has a right to its own existence.

'Afternoon in Algiers' by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, American. Oil
'An Almeh with pipe' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1873
'An Almeh with pipe' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1873
'Angelica' by Charles Gleyre, Swiss. Watercolor, 1834.
'Arab Girl' by Louis-Joseph Anthonissen
'Arms Dealers' by Giulio Rosati, Italian. Watercolor

'Bashi-Bazouk Chieftain' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1881.
'Bashi-Bazouks singing' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1868
orientalist art
'Berber Woman' by Emile Vernet-Lecomte, French. Oil, 1870
'Bride arriving in a village, Biskra, Algeria' by Philippe Pavy, French. Oil, 1889
'Buffaloes bathing in the Nile' by Leon Belly, French. Oil, 1861
'Egyptian girl with a butterfly' by Leopold Carl Muller, Viennese. Oil, 1885
Fumee d'Ambre Gris' by John Singer Sargent, American. Oil, 1880
'Girls dancing and Singing' by Etienne Dinet, French. Oil, 1902
'Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem' by Gustav Bauernfeind, German. Oil, 1890
'Lilium Auratum' by John Frederick Lewis, British. Watercolor, 1871
'Market in Jaffa' by Gustav Bauernfeind, German. Oil, 1887
'Market in Jaffa'
'Oriental Woman and her Daughter' by Narcisse Diaz, French. Oil, 1865
'Pilgrims going to Mecca' by Leon Belly, French. Oil, 1861.
pipe smoker
'Pipe smoker' by Charles Lefebvre
'Salome' by Henri Regnault, French. Oil, 1870
'The Bath' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil
'The Cedars of Lebanon' by Edward Lear, British. Oil, 1862
'The Jewish Wedding' (After Delacroix) by Auguste Renoir, French. Oil, 1875.
'The Journey of the Magi' by James Tissot, French. Watercolor, 1894
'The Massage' by Bernard Debat-Ponsan, French. Oil, 1883.
the massage by bernard debat-ponsan
'The Massage' by Bernard Debat-Ponsan
'The Moroccan' by Lucien Levy-Dhurmer, Algerian. Oil, 1900.
the pelt merchant by jean leon gerome
'The Pelt Merchant' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1869.
'The Prayer at theTomb' by Ludwig Deutsch, German. Oil, 1898.
'The Prayer' by Van Der Ouderaa, Belgium. Oil, 1894
'The Shadow of Death' by William Holman Hunt, British. Oil, 1870 to 1873.
'The Snake Charmer' by Etienne Dinet, French. Oil, 1889
'The White Slave' by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte de Nouy, French. Oil, 1888.
'The meal' by Rudolph Ernst, Austrian. Oil, 1900.
'Three Fellahs' by Charles Gleyre, Swiss. Watercolor, 1835.
1HoshJohn Frederick Lewis, British. Watercolor, 1864
le barde noir by gerome
3_gerome Le Barde Noir
Wedding Party
the carpet merchant
The Carpet Merchant
Detail from 'The Whirling Dervishes' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1899.
'Winter in Persia' by Jules Laurens, French. Oil, 1848
Oasis at Laghouat
'Albanian Dancers' by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, French. 1835.
'An Almeh with pipe'
Le Harem by Theodore Chasseriau


'Two young Constantine Jewesses rocking a Child' by Theodore Chasseriau, French. Oil, 1851

'Women of Algiers in their Room' by Eugene Delacroix, French. Oil, 1834.

Complicity' by Jean-Leon Gerome,
'Complicity' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1875.

*original post Jan 9, 2009*

*Art Renewal Center/*


  1. VERY Lovely pictures...
    Thanks for sharing

  2. You're welcome, Sikander.
    Always glad to share
    things of beauty.....

    Thanks for your visit, too.

  3. Wonderful paintings of a wonderful culture and people! Thanks for posting. God bless!

  4. You're welcome, Puchette...
    I could have wished
    these Westerner artists
    took interest and set
    their focus on the Far East, too.

  5. Love this painting! I can't express how beautiful the womans curves are. Wish there were more curvy models to paint. The media has effected the way women and men think. The curvy women I want to paint, all have low self-esteem about their bodies. This is true beauty, and true art. Artist, don't want to paint women who are bones. Thanks for sharing. Huggs-Shonna

  6. You're welcome, Shonna...

    in the distant past,
    Renaissance particularly,
    full-bodied, robust images
    of women were preferred
    art subjects.
    Must be for some reasons
    that may they were more
    realistic presentations
    of average women who normally
    went thru weight fluctuations,
    pregnancy cycles, etc...

    Nowadays, waif-like figures
    get the attention,
    which to me can be
    unattainable dreamlands,
    impractical and fanciful
    representations of women...

  7. Its almost like a photo, great album mi amigo, muchas gracias as always....

  8. De nada... :-)
    That's a great oil painting
    by French Etienne Dinet in 1902.
    An image of two girls from
    the Ouled Nail tribe.
    Many ethnic groups like the Ouled Nail,
    Copts, Berbers, and Jews
    were undervalued in their own countries,
    much like the American Indians
    were in the United States.
    Dinet spent considerable time
    with these people and strove
    to paint them with respect
    and understanding

    Human representation in art
    was not allowed in Islam and so
    the Orientalists provided us
    with the first images we had of
    people of the Middle East.

    As so often is the case it takes
    an outsider to appreciate
    an ethnic or religious minority....

  9. I love this particular
    painting, too :-)

    Paintings like this were created
    to delight the viewers senses.
    There is a quality of intimacy
    that is very beautiful in this painting.
    A perfect representation
    of beauty in contrast...
    the beauty of these two women's skin,
    the sensuality and eroticism
    creates a languid atmosphere
    which the viewers can
    lose themselves in.

  10. romantic, erotic without exposing any assets.. eyes r indeed the sexiest of all organs of a lady

  11. Oh, yes on that.
    A word,
    a glance,
    a sensual stance,
    silence itself
    communicates more & better.
    Bareeverything often
    is anti-climactic...
    For instance, ask a man and
    he will say pantyhose every time
    because they look so
    much better than bare legs (for a while...)
    It's the thrill of the peel,
    one piece at a time,
    layer by layer....

  12. agree with u .. a shining loving inviting eye is soo much more powerful than anything elese.. yr eyes i the profile picture for example

  13. agree with u .. a shining loving inviting eye is soo much more powerful than anything elese.. yr eyes i the profile picture for example

  14. agree with u .. a shining loving inviting eye is soo much more powerful than anything elese.. yr eyes i the profile picture for example

  15. A glimpse into the past, North Africa and the Middle East. Given what is happening there today, the paintings seem to portray a gentler time, though it may only be a surface illusion, and to have been steeped in the culture back then, may have been far less romantic than what is portrayed. I don't know.


    1. For me, my immediate correlation would be that of the desert, sand, female subjects in robes or lack thereof, black princes, Arabian Nights, genies, rituals, opulence and sensuality, a different realm, something vast and mysterious... and yes, a portrayal of gentler times steeped in culture. But in reality, it is far more than this. There is so much here. It would be partial to view Orientalist art exclusively through these themes. It is a wistful pining for something that exists beyond the humdrum banality of our everyday lives. The Orient lore represents the images everything we’re not in our day-to-day: enigmatic, provocative and venturous; art that pervades a fascinating allure not even the dubious conjuration of politics, racism, colonialism, war, greed and sexism can dispel. Orientalist art hints at possibilities almost like a dream of how life should be because, like said: every pattern is clear, every rhyme exact, everything here is in place, and every goal near.

      As part of a complex, multi-layered histories that span centuries and thousands of personalities, visions, and ideas, there are more recent and more relevant events: we see the unending conflict (whether religious or land disputes) between the Israelis and Palestinians, the chaos in many modern Arab dictatorships such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Egypt which were essentially created by the British and French colonial powers. Given what is happening these days, there's enough widespread chaos and disillusionment, Orientalist art may offer a gentle reprieve.

      Either factual or not in what we’re seeing — we feel the rich visuals in that distinctive kind of beauty. Taken one by one, the paintings are a meditation on time, a kind of epic Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained with small-scale heavens and hells. The paintings are exquisite. Like a time portal, it takes you back to unsullied times. One would note, even the sexy ones are modest by today's standards. Compared to the dull, mundane tints we’re accustomed to, its motif is emblazoned with color. The sky, the rising sun, the clouds, the trees, markets, the roads, harems – present one slice of the spectrum bathed with colors.

      Besides the rich visuals and color, depending on what you see, there seem to be an audacious interpretation of duality in the themes: interplay between light and dark. It may only be black or white but relates to: for feminine vulnerability, it is white. Black for the mysterious and sinister — both exemplify the crux of Orientalism.

    2. There is also visibly a kind of sensuality. For example: as someone pointed out somewhere,(Le Harem by Theodore Chasseriau) the unabashed, heavy-lidded sexuality mixes with regular Orientalist motifs: white, sexual femininity juxtaposed with black, threatening masculinity. Into this maelstrom of desire and voyeurism our own contemplation goes almost unnoticed; it seems natural, if not logical. But it would be unfair to view Orientalist art solely through its sexual politics. There are plenty of striking (John Singer Sargent's Fumée d'Ambre Gris) images with nary a harem in sight. One other example ('Pipe smoker' by Charles Lefebvre) -- His face here is impassive and unreadable; we can see his eyes but what is he thinking? We don’t know. This element of mystery is just as central to Orientalist ideas as color, vulnerability, opulence and peril.

      The Orient is a vast land with panoply of different languages, environments, cultures, religions, folktales and myths. Yet, we can again have a feel of that bygone era; all can experience what is fundamentally different, no doubt in part a response to The Orientalists.