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Etienne Dinet

Etienne Dinet Portrait
Self-Portrait,
1891

 

 

 

 




Name: Etienne Dinet

Born: Paris, France
           28 March, 1861

Died: Paris, France
          24 December, 1929

 

Etienne Dinet spent almost 50 years living in sourthern Algeria and he holds a very special position in the history of Orientalist painting. His empathy and understanding of the Algerians lend his works an authenticity rarely surpassed, each being infused with his unique talent and intensity of emotion.

During the first half of the 19th century, French touring painters (voyageurs) were normally attached to military, scientific or diplomatic missions, but by 1870 the Orientalists tended to prefer to travel alone, although nevertheless depending heavily upon official sponsorship and commissions. Dinet on the other hand quickly gained public acclaim for his talent alone, rapidly developing his own unique plein air style.

The following is a brief chronology of his life and artistic career:

 1861 Born in Paris into a prosperous middle-class family, his father being the president of the Seine civil court, his mother a devotee of the fine arts and whose influence could already be seen in his enthusiasm for drawing from the age of five.
 1865 Birth of his sister Jeanne, later to become his biographer.
 1871 Enters the Lycée Henri IV in Paris as a border. Shows interest in history, geography and drawing, and winning a first prize in the latter. His favourite times at this age are declared to be the holidays spent at his family mansion at Héricy, near Fontainebleau.
 1879 Having achieved his baccalaureat, Dinet begins his military service in Granville, Normandy, where his free time is employed in drawing and painting.

 1880-1881

Finishing military service, he must now choose a career. His father wants him to pursue the family tradition of law, however his interest in art pervades and he enters the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Galland atelier. His studies also include anatomy. However on the closure of this atelier, he enrols at the Académie Julian where his teachers include William Bouguereau and Tony Robert Fleury. He studies there for four years forging many enduring friendships.
 1882

His first painting sent to the Paris Salon des Artistes Français, La Mère Clotilde, receives critical acclaim.

 1884

The brother of his friend Lucien Simon is an entomologist and about to embark on a scientific study visit to Algeria. The two friends decide to accompany him for the period of a month – to the south of the country - and thus begins his lifelong love for Algeria.

 1885 He obtains a bursary and is able to visit Normandy, Brittany, Jersey and Switzerland to study landscape painting. Then in the spring he makes his second voyage to Algeria where he travels extensively, filling his sketchbook which exhibits his interest in precision of form and physiological detail. In this year he completes his first two Algerian works: Les Terrasses de Laghouat (The Terraces of Laghouat) and L’Oued M’sila après l’Orage (Wadi M’sila after the Storm).
 1886

Leaving the Académie Julian, he sets up in his own atelier in Rue de Rome, Paris.

 1887

The third voyage to Algeria, this time accompanied by a group of other young artists. Dinet, along with 13 other artists, including Paul Leroy and baron Arthur Chassériau, form the Société des Peintres Orientalistes Français (Society of French Orientalist Painters), with Jean-Léon Gérôme and Benjamin-Constant as honorary presidents, under the presidence of Léonce Bénédite, Conservator of the Musée du Luxembourg.

 1888

Dinet moves to a new atelier at 85 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, close to that of his friend Paul Leroy and with whom he enrols at the Oriental Language School to learn Arabic. In the same year he exhibits at the Galerie Georges Petit where his paintings hang beside those of Sisley and other Impressionists. For a fourth time he returns to Algeria, this time with the young guide Slimane Ben Ibrahim Baâmeur, who was to accompany him thenceforth for many years. Returning to Paris, his works again meet with acclaim.

 1889 During this period he involves himself deeper in Orientalist themes and his canvas exhibited at the Salon, Midi en jouillet à Bou-Saâda, dazzles with it’s representation of light and heat. Again he moves to a new atelier, in the rue Furstemberg – close to where Delacroix worked – and his work is displayed in the Algerian Pavillion at the Universal Exhibition. Following this – together with a number of other ‘dissidents’, including Puvis de Chavannes, Carolus Duran, Charles Cottet and Auguste Rodin – he helps constitute the breakaway Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
 1893 The Palais de l’Industrie is the venue for the first official exhibition of the Peintres Orientalistes Français. He is also very enthusiastic about visiting an exhibition of Muslim art for the first time. From this time onwards he dedicates himself to paintings of an Algerian theme.
 1895 Dissatisfied with the results obtained creating paintings using oil colours and varnish, he experiments with a new technique using egg – as already employed by the “Primitives” – to give a clearer, brilliant tone.
 1898 Dinet publishes his first illustrated book – Le Poème d’Antar, translated from Arabic – with illustrations inspired by the Laghouat region. It comprised 120 illustrations and 12 decorative panels.
 1902 A second illustrated book is published – Rabia El Kouloub or Le Printemps des Coeurs (Springtime of the Hearts) – a collection of three Saharan legends, retold by Sliman with Dinet’s illustrations. His painting L’Arabe en prière (Arab Praying) initiates the process ultimately leading to his conversion to the Islamic faith in 1903.
 1903 Publishes in the journal “Art et Décoration” an article entitled Les Jeux de la lumière ou Observations sur l’exposition des Arts Musulmans (The Play of Light or Observations on the Islamic art exhibition),to be re-published alone at a later date.
 1904 Since he continues to spend several months of each year in Algeria, Dinet creates a permanent base there, buying a house at Bou-Saâda.
 1907 The Villa Abd El Tif is established in Algiers, along the lines of the Villa Médicis in Rome, as a place of training young French Orientalist painters, but Dinet prefers to keep his independence and his life in the south of the country.
 1909-1911 Two further books are published together with Silmane – works exalting the nomadic life – the second, Le Désert, receiving much acclaim. The location of his Paris atelier changes to Rue de l’Abbaye in the Saint-Germain-des-Près quarter, where it remains for several years. He begins thinking about writing a “Life of Mohammed” – since his fluency in the Arabic language now enabled him to research the ancient texts.
 1913 Dinet officially converts to Islam – and takes the name Nacer Ad Dine (Defender of the Faith). Although contemplated for a long time, this definitive act loses him several of his old friends, including Paul Leroy.
 1914 On 9th March his father dies and he is very much affected. With the beginning of the war, he returns to Héricy and, with the aid of his sister, transforms the mansion into a military hospital.
 1915-1918 Dinet becomes more politically involved in Algeria, taking up stances critical of the colonial administration, thereby again attracting much criticism. However he does succeed in obtaining better conditions for Islamic fighters in the war effort and helps in establishing a franco-islamic hospital at Poincaré. In Algeria he signs up with the franco-islamic north Africa action committee presided over by Edouard Herriot. Finally he publishes his “Life of Mohammed”, dedicated to the muslims who had given their lives for France.
 1922 In January his mother dies and, together with his sister, decides to sell the mansion at Héricy. With his share of the inheritance he buys a villa in Saint-Eugène, a suburb of Algiers.
 1925 The series of deaths continues with that of Léonce Bénédite and also Slimane’s mother. He sets about building a mausoleum by the Bou-Saâda wadi so that he can later be interred there together with Slimane and his wife when their time came.
 1926 In July he is present at the official opening of the Paris mosque, having been an enthusiastic proponent for the project from the outset. But for Dinet, the most successful event of the year was undoubtedly the publication of his illustrated edition of Khadra, danseuse Ouled Naïl, which was such a success that the printer was unable to satisfy the demand for copies.
 1928 Fattoum, the wife of Slimane, dies and is interred in the Mausoleum at Bou-Saâda. Dinet exhibits at the Paris Salin for the last time.
 1929 1 April Dinet prepares to set out on his pilgrimage to Mecca.
20 June Returns to Marseille.
6 July For the first time he signs his paintings El Hadj Nasr Eddine.
9 November Finishes his book “Pilgrimage to the House of the Holy Allah”.
22 November Admitted to a clinic in Paris.
24 December Visited by the Governor General, Violette. At the age of 68, suffering from heart failure, Dinet dies. In January 1930, his body is transferred to Algiers to be interred in the mausoleum.

Reference: “La Vie et l’Oeuvre de Etienne Dinet”, Denise Brahimi & Koudir Benchikou, ACR Edition, Paris 1991

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