European Orientalists


BARGUE Charles (Paris c.1825 - Paris 1883)

Bargue was both a painter and lithographer who collaborated with Jean-Léon Gérôme. His paintings have not frequently come to light, however they usually comprise eighteenth century genre scenes and portraits of bashibazouks (mercenaries of the Ottoman army).

BOUCHARD Paul-Louis (Paris 1853 - Paris 1937)

A born-and-bred Parisian, Bouchard was famous for his paintings of red-headed nymphs and seductive nudes in Turkish harems. He also painted views of Moscow, the park of Versailles and French landscapes. Après le Bain ('After the Bath') is one of his most interesting paintings.

The exotic hammams (public baths) captured Bouchard's imagination. To wash and to purify oneself is a religious obligation in Muslim countries, both for men and for women and each town and nearly every village had at least one hamman. The baths fascinated the Orientalists and moved their imaginations to create numerous paitings depicting them. In 'After the Bath' a beautiful young woman is being dried after a bath by a servant girl. She is wearing the typical tall wooden sandals used in the hammams to protect bathers' feet from the heated marble floors and from slipping. The most elaborate ones were made of ebony, rosewood or sandalwood decorated with silver, mother-of-pearl or tortiseshell.

COMERRE Léon (Trélon 1850 - Paris 1916)

Comerre's artistic talent showed itself from a very early age. At only 17 he finished his education at the Art Academy in Lille with a gold medal and then moved to Paris to continue his studies under the direction of Alexandre Cabanel.

The young artist's reputation was quickly established and he exhibited his paintings at the Société des Artistes Français from the age of 23 until he died. He was admired both in France and abroad, especially by the bourgeoisie in Belgium, England and the United States. There was a great demand for his work, especially portraits, allegorical and biblical scenes.

He was greatly influenced by his voyage to Spain and on his return started using decorative elements in the Alhambran style. He was especially fascinated by the intricate mosaics he saw there, and which have added the oriental touch to his portraits, such as Les Coquelicots ('Poppies'). Here the beauty of the lovely young woman is enhanced by the rich colours of the fabrics, her exotic jewellery and the exotic Alhambran mosaic background.

DICKSEE Sir Francis Bernard (London 1853 - London 1928)

Frank was the son of Thomas Dicksee, an artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy in London for over fifty years with an element of success. He studied painting first with his father then at the Royal Academy Schools. He won a gold medal for the first painting, Harmony, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876. From then on he had a long and prosperous career exhibiting a total of 153 canvases at the Academy.

His paintings are always richly coloured and opulently costumed, drawing on mythological, biblical or literary sources to depict chivalrous or romantic themes. From the 1890's he turned to painting scenes from contemporary life and also the more lucrative work of a society portraitist. A great admirer of the Venetian masters, he was amongst the last representatives of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Dicksee became an Associate Member of the Royal Academy (ARA) in 1881, a full member (RA) in 1891 and finally its President in 1924, after which he was then knighted.

FALÉRO Luis Riccardo (Grenada 1851 - London 1896)

This Spanish born painter was a talented and precocious child. His wealthy parents sent him for two years to Richmond college in England to learn the English language and also watercolour painting. He was only 9 years old when he left England to continue his studies in Paris. However he was to return to his native country to join the Spanish navy, following the wishes of his parents. But at the age of 16, to their bitter disappointment, he left the service, walking all the way to Paris where he studied art, chemistry and mechanical engineering. However, the experiments he had to conduct during some of those studies turned out to be so dangerous that he decided to dedicate himself solely to art.

Favourite subjects for his paintings were female nudes, mostly with Orientalist elements, and also astronomy and magic (witches riding broomsticks, etc). He spent the final years of his life in London.

LANDELLE Charles (Laval 1821 - Chennevières-sur-Marne 1908)

Thanks to frequent State and private commissions, Landelle made a good living from painting historical and religious scenes as well as portraits and decorative murals. Being friends with Théophile Gautier (the staunch supporter of Gérôme) and Gérard de Nerval, he was attracted by Orientalism even before travelling to Tangiers in 1853 and, working with European models and accessories in his studio, had already created the archetypical oriental lady. In 1866, having returned from a diplomatic mission in Morocco, he painted Femme Fellah in his studio - his encounter with Magreb apparently having had little influence on his subsequent work. This painting was later bought by Napoléon III for his private collection and in the following years he was to paint several copies of it to satisfy popular demand. It also resulted in many commissions from the fashion-conscious society types to portray them dressed in Egyptian costume.

After the Franco-German war of 1870-71 he became wealthy due to the increasing prices his paintings commanded, being purchased by Adolphe Goupil and several other European and American collectors.

He voyaged to Egypt and Jerusalem in 1875, selling many canvases to his international co-travellers en route. He returned there briefly in 1877, then spent every winter from 1881 to 1892 in Algeria accompanied by his son Georges and Paul Leroy, both painters.

Landelle was a regular Salon exhibitor and he also participated in most of the Universal Exhibitions from 1855 to 1900.

LECOMTE DU NOÜY Jean-Jules Antoine (Paris 1842 - Paris 1923)

Born into a noble and ancient Piedmontese family, Lecomte du Noüy studied with Charles Gleyre and Emile Signol before becoming a pupil of Jean-Léon Gerome. However it was under the inluence of the latter that he began to paint and exhibit typical neo-classical and Orientalist scenes. He travelled to Egypt in 1862 in the company of the painter Félix Clément, although it was classical Egypt and its literary aspects which interested him most.

His large painting Porteurs de Mauvaises Nouvelles ('Bringers of bad news', 1871) was inspired by a fragment of the Roman de la Momie ('Novel of the Mummy') by Théophile Gautier, as well as his tryptic entitled Ramsès dans son Harem ('Ramses in his Harem', 1885-86). He was also interested in the romantic aspects of Islamic life, as notably portrayed in his famous canvases La Porte du Sérail, souvenir du Caire ('The Door to the Serail, a Rembrance of Cairo', 1876) and l'Esclave Blanche ('The White Slave', 1888).

His total output contained a great variety of subjects including portraits, neo-greek items, religious, allegorical and historical scenes. After his trip to North Africa, he exhibited Moroccan subjects from 1870 to 1890, although drawing inspiration mainly from Hugo and Gautier. In 1895, on his way to Constantinople, he stopped in Bucarest where he completed some frescos and portraits in the Byzantine style. He returned to Egypt in 1901 to make studies for Tristesse de Pharaon ('Sorrow of the Pharaoh') and then visited Biskra, alhough he never portrayed Algerian subjects.

PILNY Otto (Budweis 1866 - ?)

Pilny studied art in Prague then lived for a time in Viennna before settling in Zurich, Switzerland. Even though only making two trips to Egypt, in 1889 and 1892, he dedicated his life to painting Orientalist subjects for the next thirty years. These included dancers, Arabs praying in the desert beside their camels, and merchants selecting female slaves. His early paintings employed deep and warm colours, but after 1913 these were softened with shades of pink and yellow predominating.

ROSATI Giulio (Rome 1858 - Rome 1917)

Rosati studied art first in Rome and then in Madrid. He painted mainly scenes from the camel markets, the bazaars, army encampments and women in harems. He meticulously researched his subjects and paid enormous attention to detail. His paintings are full of intricate oriental patterns whose richness fascinated him. His painting entitled Bavardage ('A Chat') showing two women exchanging the latest gossip dazzles with the beautiful patterns of luxurious rugs and fine oriental tissues.

TISSIER Ange (Paris 1814 - Nice 1876)

Ange Tissier was a student of Paul Delaroche at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. From 1838 onwards he was to exhibit at the Salon for the rest of his life. Although to begin with he was a portrait artist, he went on to paint genre scenes, particularly Breton and Italian. His Orientalist canvases reflected the typical French interest in Algeria during the Second Empire. He painted Une Algérienne et son Esclave ('An Algerian and her Slave') in1860, the year of Napoléon III's official visit to the country.

TROUILLEBERT Paul-Désirée (Paris 1831 - Paris 1900)

Trouillebert studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and exhibited at the Salon from 1865 to 1884. In addition to a large number of portraits he also painted voluptuous nudes. Orientalism was at the peak of its popularity at this time and his output included many pictures of Oriental women - such as Servante du Harem ('Harem Servant Girl', 1874). From 1880 he concentrated mainly on French landscapes, although also painting some in Holland and Venice.

Although his painting style was close to that of late Corot, contrary to the claims of some, he never actually copied him. This erroneous assumption arose due to the fact that in 1884 Alexandre Dumas (the son) bought a painting he thought to be by Corot but actually turned out to be a Trouillebert. The ensuing trial aroused strong public passions and Trouillebert was to become known, quite falsely, as a "poor man's Corot", resulting in his neglect by most future art historians.

VERNET Horace (Paris 1789 - Paris 1863)

Of all the military French painters of the 19th century, Horace Vernet was probably the most admired. Lucky from the cradle (he was born near the Louvre Palace) he quickly acquired fame and fortune. He was the last of the "Vernet dynasty": his father, Carle Vernet, painter of horses and battles, was the son of Joseph Vernet, marine painter of the 18th century. As a consequence, all doors were open to him. He was awarded a first class medal at the age of 22, was a Knight of the Legion of Honour at 25, Member of the Institute at 36, and the director of the French Academy in Rome at 38.

Even though the Vernets were traditionally royalists, Horace became allied to Napoléon and the Empire. Then, during the Restoration, he was connected with the liberals (which did not stop him obtaining an official commission from Charles X). The 1830 revolution carried his personal friend Louis-Philipe to the throne, a fact which greatly helped Horace in his career. Later, after the events of 1848, he was for a short while a supporter of the Republic, then finding himself named as official painter of the Second Empire. Opportunism? Switching sides? He definitely had an extraordinary talent to adapt himself to different political regimes and to remain in the limelight.

When he was young, Vernet threw himself with full force into the Romantic movement. He painted with energy and exuberance, in hot and vibrant colours, medieval and modern battles, allegories, the frantic antics of wild horses and subjects inspired by authors such as Byron and Victor Hugo (Mazeppa 1825, Giaour 1827). But this painter of war and tragedy, who was so admired by Stendhal in the Salon of 1825, changed his style after his nomination as head of the French Academy in 1828.

Having obtained the king's permission to leave Rome, in 1833 he made the first of many voyages to Algeria, in the company of the English artist William Wyld. He felt that Africa was the continent of the future, "a gold mine for France", and he acquired a vast area at Ben-Koula. Convinced that the gestures and behaviour of the Arabs had not changed for hundreds of years and that he was watching live representations of Biblical scenes, he set out to paint religious scenes after the lives of the nomads he saw. Starting with the Conteur Arabe ('Arab Storyteller') executed towards the end of 1833 for the Count of Pembroke, he pushed aside the romantic, violent and supple technique in favour of the precision and fidelity of ethnographic detail with which he imbued his oriental and biblical scenes. This practice of dressing biblical personages in modern Arab clothes displeased the public and he had to defend his ideas in front of the Academy with the help of documents collected during his journeys. In 1848 he published an article in the Illustration journal: "The connections which exist between the costumes of the ancient Hebrews and the modern Arabs".

In 1835 Vernet was replaced in Rome by Ingres and he returned to France just after Louis-Phillippe had created a museum of millitary history at Versailles and he was commissioned to decorate the principal galleries. For this he painted episodes from the conquest of Algieria : Le Siège de Constantine, Combat de l'Habrah and the famous Taking of the Smalah d'Abd-el-Kader, with an overall length of 21.9 m (almost 72 ft)!

Originality in those big canvases was due mainly to the suppression of the main hero - as was the tradition - so that even the last of the foot-soldiers played their role in these immense compositions saturated with little scenes of equal interest. Exhibited in the Salon in 1845, the Smalah attracted enormous crowds, although some severe criticisms: "It's all a novel, but composed of many episodes", "the painters of battles have been transformed into reporters writing bulletins" were amonst the nicest ones.

After depicting so many battles Vernet seemed himself to develop a millitary air: brusque intonations, brushed hair, chopped words, straight bearing, enormous moustache. His numerous journeys to Algieria, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and the Crimea were not always too comfortable. In fact, he took any means of transport available: ships, coaches, sleighs, horses, camels or mules. He slept under a tent or even under the stars. He was a mixture of an adventure seeker and an official artist and he produced an enormous amount of work (about 500 paintings and, according to Lagrange, 200 lithographs). As a proffessor at the École des Beaux-Arts, he had an enormous influence on the artistic bodies of the time - juries, salons and competitions - and he received numerous commissions from the State, from the upper bourgeoisie and from high ranking officers. The lithographs after his sketches and paintings, widely distributed, brought him enormous fame.

Vernet was however subject to numerous ferrocious attacts, both personally as well as professionally, while living and after his death. At the end of the 19th century his name seemed to be universally disliked by the official critics and encyclopaedia authors. But the retrospecive exhibitions of 1980 in Paris and Rome did a lot to rehabilitate this artist who was so strongly integrated into the political and millitary life of his time.

WONTNER William Clarke (London 1857 - London 1930)

Wontner was one of the minor painters who followed the neo-classical movement in England, of which Alma-Tadema was the foremost. He liked painting silhouettes of seductive women in classical or oriental surroundings, often leaning their backs against white marble walls. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1879, and at the Society of British Artists and the Institute of Painters in Watercolour. After the closure in 1890 of the Grosvenor Gallery (which had been the epicentre of the aesthetic movement of the 80's) and the rival of the very exclusive Royal Academy, Wontner, like many other artists, moved to the New Gallery.

One of his most beautiful paintings is Safie, One of the Three Ladies of Bagdad, who embodies typical oriental beauty as imagined by the Europeans. In this intricate and charming painting, the eye is drawn to the exquisite embroidered bolero, the translucent necklaces and the transparent silky, flowing fabrics of the ravishing young lady's attire.

For further information on Wontner, refer to the J W Godward biography.