Page Four
'Afternoon in Algiers' by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, American. Oil.
   Frederick Arthur Bridgman was born in Alabama and studied first in New York and then in Paris under Gerome. He first traveled to the Middle East while in his twenties; visiting Egypt and Algeria. In addition to painting he was also a photographer and often painted from the photos that he had taken.
   Although he was an Academic painter he liked the Impressionists. While we tend to think today of 19th century art movements as being separate and inimical to each other friendships often flourished across ideological borders. Bridgman admired the Impressionists Manet and Renoir while Renoir admired the Romantic Delacroix.
   He loved Algeria and because of his exposure to slavery in the pre Civil War South he was an anti-colonialist.

'The Bath' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil.
  Baths were and are an important part of life going back centuries. The Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all were known for their public baths and luxurious bath houses were built all through the Near and Middle east.
   Western artists were frequently shown the inside of these beautiful baths, absent the women. From sketches and photographs they would then reconstruct the scene in their studios, often using professional models.
   Accurate detail and authenticity were extremely important to them. The curious shoes in the lower right of the picture were designed to provide traction and to lift the wearers feet off the floor and out of the soaps and chemical depilatories that they used to remove body hair.

Men's bath, Turkey c. 1885
'Pipe smoker' by Charles Lefebvre, Belgium. Oil, 1884.
    Besides the exotic and ornate, many images of the Middle East were very simple and basic. Children playing, a man smoking a pipe, these were images that everyone could understand and enjoy. The nineteenth century intellectuals hammered at the Class system all around the world. When the Orientalists went to the Middle East they did not just paint the powerful and the elite, they painted everyone and everything.

   Because of this we have an incredible visual record of the Middle East in the nineteenth century. While some images are hackneyed or stereotypical this is often just a case of lesser artists imitating the greater. Most of the images were simple sketches drawn by the artists in their sketchpads such as the one below by Delacroix.
Page from Delacroix's journal. 1832

'The Prayer' by Van Der Ouderaa, Belgium. Oil, 1894.
   How did the Islamic world view westerners? On a personal level they found us confusing. The European emphasis on punctuality surprised them as well as did our religion. With it's call to prayer five times a day the Islamic world is very public with it's displays of religion. On the other hand most Europeans prayed privately. In 1885, the American ambassador to Persia wrote a description a local Persian had made of a Christian lady, saying, "She does not revile, she does not steal or lie, yet she has no religion!"

   When Napoleon marched into Egypt in 1798 he brought both war and brutality, which the people were used to. But he also brought the ideals of the Republic and a new way of looking at the world, which Arab intellectuals immediately embraced. Though he did it with violence, Napoleon kicked down the big door that had kept our worlds apart from each other.

   What is frequently striking in these paintings is the sense of movement. Although working in a two dimensional medium these artists were masters at creating movement and a flowing sense of time. Early photographers with their large cameras, slow shutter speeds and tripods were unable to create such life like scenes. Photographic images from this period tend to have a frozen, stilted quality. Later photography would improve and eventually become the medium that recorded the world: but until that day came the artists and painters ruled.

   Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps was both one of the first Orientalists and Romantic painters. In 1828 he traveled to Turkey, Greece and North Africa and his work had a great effect on later painters.

'Albanian Dancers' by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, French. 1835.
'The meal' by Rudolph Ernst, Austrian. Oil, 1900.
   A Venetian living in France, in 1885 Rudolph Ernst began to travel extensively throughout the Middle East. For the next decade he visited Morocco, Spain and Turkey.

   His work appealed to eastern tastes more strongly than western. Although he exhibited for decades in Paris the critics ignored his work. More importantly however his work was appreciated by the very people whose images he painted. While in Turkey he received several important commissions from the minister Agop Pasha.

'Oriental Woman and her Daughter' by Narcisse Diaz, French. Oil, 1865.
   Narcisse Diaz was unable to travel to the Middle East. When he was twelve he lost a leg to a snake bite and simple mobility became a task for him. His Oriental paintings came from his imagination rather than observation but they are beautiful none the less.

   Narcisse Diaz lived in the small french village of Barbizon. He was drawn there to study with several other emerging artists and from them a distinct style of painting emerged known as the Barbizon School. They were primarily landscape painters and they inspired the later Impressionists.

      While some paintings were designed to accurately record people, events or landscapes, others were created to delight the viewers senses. There is a quality of intimacy that is very beautiful in this painting. The beauty of these two women's skin, the sensuality and eroticism creates a languid atmosphere which the viewers can lose themselves in. Bernard Debat-Ponsan painted this in the year following his trip to Turkey.

   Like many artists Bernard Debat-Ponsan was to the left of the political spectrum. Following France's crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian war French politics were thrown into turmoil. Opposing political parties fought incessantly and a bitter resentment towards the Germans in general and Bismark in particular endured; the rancor went on for decades. In 1894 a Jewish officer in the French army became a focal point in the struggle between the various camps. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly convicted of selling secrets to the Germans and sent to Devil's Island with a life sentence under extremely harsh conditions. Kept in a small cell with a sentry armed with a machine gun watching him constantly, he was chained to his bed every night. After years of intense political struggle Dreyfus was finally cleared of all charges but the incident polarized the nation.
   Bernard Debat-Ponsan came out passionately on the side of Dreyfus and in doing so alienated many of his wealthy buyers who were both pro-government and anti-Jewish. Unfortunately by expressing his strongly felt beliefs he sacrificed his career.

'The Massage' by Bernard Debat-Ponsan, French. Oil, 1883.
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