Theodore Gudin presents The Golden Horn.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Sotheby’s Orientalist Sale (London, Mar. 31), now in its ninth season, brings together paintings representing the landscapes, people and customs of North Africa, Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, Iran and the Ottoman world, during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Comprising 57 lots, it will provide a unique window into a realm that has forever changed, capturing in Technicolour detail every aspect of life in the region.
Raphael von Ambros’s (Austrian, 1845-1895), Awaiting the Prayer in the Mosque of Sultan Qalawun, an oil on panel work, 1887, is one of the highlights of the auction.
Captured in minute photographic detail, the tranquil scene shows a Nubian guard awaiting the hour of prayer outside a Cairene mosque. Seated on an Ottoman mother-of-pearl inlaid calligrapher’s chest and with a flintlock gun in hand, the guard’s iridescent green silt gown mirrors the jade green incense holder beneath the large copper incense burner.
Charles Wilda’s work (Austrian, 1854-1907), A Game of Chess, Cairo, oil on panel, 1888, follows next. Like many of his fellow Orientalist painters, Wilda travelled to Egypt in the early 1880s and set up a studio in Cairo where he developed a keen interest for the depiction of everyday Egyptian life.
Henriette Browne’s (French, 1829-1901), A Visit: A Harem Interior, oil on canvas, is a rare and important painting by one of the few female Orientalist painters active in the nineteenth century. The harem was a sophisticated social space inaccessible to male eyes, and therefore, so often, the subject of hackneyed, voyeuristic, depictions. By virtue of being painted by a woman, the picture provides a greater understanding of the workings of the harem. Henriette Browne, the English professional pseudonym of Sophie De Saux, accompanied her diplomat husband to Constantinople for a fortnight, in 1860. Set in a minimalist interior, Browne’s painting depicts the visit of one harem to another.
On offer is Fausto Zonaro’s (Italian, 1854-1929), On the Galata Bridge, Constantinople, oil on canvas, work. Zonaro’s view across the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn, with the dome and minarets of the New Mosque beyond, has the qualities of a photographic snapshot of Constantinople’s bustling street life.
The artist had moved to the city in 1891 and the last Ottoman sultan, Abdül Hamid II, appointed him painter to his court. Thanks to the sultan’s patronage, he was able to explore every corner of the city undisturbed, including religious festivals that would have otherwise been forbidden to him.
Théodore Gudin (French, 1802-1880), The Golden Horn, oil on canvas, 1851, is a painting of the Golden Horn that predates the building of the Galata Bridge and takes in the majestic skyline of the Old City, including the New Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque, in the distance.
Georges Bretagnier (French, 1860-1892), The Hour of Prayer, Tangier, oil on canvas, 1892, is another must see (and perhaps buy). Bretagnier first visited North Africa at the end of 1884, where he remained until the following summer.
Hugely influenced by what he found, he took to dressing in the local costume in order to mix more easily with the locals, sporting a djellaba and travelling by donkey. In this work, an Imam wearing an emerald green gown leads a group of men in prayer in the mosque of El-Kasbah in Tangier.
Jacques Majorelle (French, 1886-1962) has two works on offer, namely, Moussem in Moula Dourein, Essaouira (Morocco), and tempera on canvas and Procession before a Kasbah, also tempera on canvas.
Majorelle produced modern, rich, and colourful works that revolutionised the Orientalist tradition. Painted in 1940, this is one of seven works by the artist depicting the moussem (festival) in the port of Moula Dourein. The setting for Procession before a Kasbah appears to be Anemiter (or Anmiter) in the High Atlas Mountains. Lucian Lévy-Dhurmer (French, 1865-1953) is another artist who has two works on offer. They are Rabat, oil on canvas, 1931, and Les Roses d’Ispahan, oil on canvas. As a native of Algiers, North Africa held a special place in Lévy-Dhurmer’s heart and was the source of inspiration for breath-taking views of which the two works are prime examples.
On Oct. 22, 2019, thirty-six works from the legendary Najd Collection together sold for a record total of £33.5 million, with nine further records broken for the greatest exponents of the genre.
Following this major market-defining moment, Sotheby’s is also set to offer (alongside the main auction) a further selection of rigorously painted historic scenes of the Middle East, as it was experienced by intrepid explorers in the nineteenth-century.
Over thirty rarely seen works by leading artists, including Jean-Léon Gérôme, Gustav Bauernfeind and Ludwig Deutsch, will go on view at Sotheby’s London from Mar. 27, ahead of the auction on Mar. 31.
Says Claude Piening, Sotheby’s Head of 19th century European paintings, London: “Once in a while, a private collection has the power to redefine and reinvigorate a genre of art in the eyes of a new generation and in the market. Last year when we exhibited all 155 works from the prestigious Najd Collection, we were thrilled to witness a resounding enthusiasm for Orientalist art, and so it is with great pleasure that we are able to offer a second tranche of luminous works by its most famous exponents.”
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