Page Three

The music playing is 'Diaspora from Spain'

courtesy of
Desert Wind


'The Jewish Wedding' (After Delacroix) by Auguste Renoir, French. Oil, 1875.
   By 1875 Algeria had become very westernized due to French colonization; roughly ten percent of Algeria's population was now European. Auguste Renoir, who had been so poor as a student that he had to squeeze the paint out of tubes discarded by his peers, noted that the locals were jaded by the large numbers of European artists and charged high prices for their sitting fees!
   Paintings were frequently reproduced during the 19th century, sometimes by the original artist, sometimes by others. Renoir was commissioned to paint this replica of a painting by Delacroix, an artist he much admired.
'The Pelt Merchant' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1869.
   This painting shows why Gerome was so valued in his lifetime. I've had the pleasure of seeing some of his paintings in person and they are truly beautiful.

   While financially successful Gerome was not commercially motivated. He frequently painted pictures that he had little chance of selling and often gave them away to his friends. In addition when he took up sculpture later in his life he made a practice of underpricing his work. His reasoning was that since state funds allocated to sculpture were so limited he didn't want to be paid the high price he could command for his work, thus depriving younger artists the chance to make a living.

'Jewish Woman, Smyrna' by Charles Gleyre, Swiss. Watercolor, 1834.
   The Ottomans ruled for many years over many diverse people. Jews had lived in Turkey for centuries and Turkey was the first Islamic nation to recognize Israel. This portrait is of an elegant Jewish woman living in Smyrna, the reputed birthplace of Homer.

   Traditionally paintings were done in studios under controlled conditions. Artists such as Gleyre could produce an excellent sketch on the spot and a watercolor such as this would take him about three days. Photography was in it's infancy and art was used in the documentary sense that we have come to associate with photography today. All of the artists skills; sketching, drafting and painting were employed to create a real, accurate image that was both true to life and archival.

'Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem' by Gustav Bauernfeind, German. Oil, 1890.
   The Wailing Wall is the one surviving wall of the great temple of Solomon which the Babylonians destroyed when they overran Israel and sacked Jerusalem. In this painting you can see it has been rebuilt but not restored to its original condition. Certain stones seem out of place and probably were in different locations in the original structure. To me this represents the archetypal vision which has been shattered and then imperfectly rebuilt; and is a metaphor for the human condition.

  

'The Shadow of Death' by William Holman Hunt, British. Oil, 1870 to 1873.
   Although known primarily as one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters William Holman Hunt was also an Orientalist; traveling to the Middle East first in 1848 and then again in 1869 and 1875. In 'The Shadow of Death' he portrays Jesus as a young man experiencing a terrifying vision of his own crucifiction. Following the Pre-Raphaelite creed of purity and truth in art he painted every detail down to the wood chips on the floor.

   One of the great contributions the Orientalists made was to religion. Since the early days of Christianity there was a slow evolution towards making Jesus appear to be ethnically identical to whatever group that was worshipping him. Now it was acknowledged that Jesus was Jewish and looked Jewish and many artists sought to portray Jesus as could have looked in real life.

     Following the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 France was rocked by civil war. In Paris the Commune rose up and challenged the government for power. There was fighting in the streets and two months later government forces attacked in strength, killing nearly twenty thousand commune members in the streets of Paris. James Tissot, a commune sympathizer had to flee the country to escape imprisonment.

   While in England Tissot became a very successful and popular painter of casual society scenes such as cafes and relaxed social gatherings. His great skill was in understanding both social situations and the personal emotions that people felt. He had an incredible understanding of Victorian England and his paintings were insightful narratives that told stories about the people in them.
Kathleen Newton
 

 The great love of his life was Kathleen Newton, his mistress and one of the famous scandalous women of the day. She lived with him and her two children from a previous marriage and their life was very happy together. When she died at the age of 28 from tuberculosis Tissot was devastated by her loss. He could no longer paint as he did before and after trying to rebuild his career in France he finally left Europe to spend ten years in the Holy Land searching for the deeper meanings in life. In 1896 he published 865 New Testament illustrations, a monumental task, and was working on the Old Testament at his death in 1902.

'The Journey of the Magi' by James Tissot, French. Watercolor, 1894.
'Egyptian girl with a butterfly' by Leopold Carl Muller, Viennese. Oil, 1885.
   Leopold Carl Muller, a Viennese artist, was both an excellent painter and a humble man. When his students tried to copy his famous 'Marketplace outside Cairo' he suggested they choose something better to paint.

   He made nine trips to Cairo beginning in 1873. This painting was done on his last trip in 1885 and shows a girl playing with a small butterfly which has landed on her dress.

Muller with Egyptian friends
'Fumee d'Ambre Gris' by John Singer Sargent, American. Oil, 1880.
   John Singer Sargent was an American painter but really in name only. He live most of his life in Europe and returned to the United States when he was 21 so that he could retain his US citizenship. He was one of the most accomplished artists of his time, fluid in many styles of painting combined with a very strong work ethic.

   Many artists, especially those from Great Britain were amazed at the color of light in the Middle East. While previously artists had traveled to Italy to study mediterranean light they now were going to north Africa as well.

   Sargent painted this while in Morocco. The woman in this painting is burning a wax like substance from the sperm whale, thought to be an aphrodisiac.

   There were many different orders of Dervishes. The Bektash Dervishes had great power because of their long association with the Janissary; the sultan's private slave army that originally had been conscripted from the second born boys of the occupied Balkan states. With time the Jannissary had grown powerful and corrupt and had toppled several sultans with their revolts. When the Janissaries were destroyed by the sultan Mahmoud II in 1826 as a threat to his reforms the Bektash Dervishes were driven underground for a time.

   The Whirling Dervishes or the Mevlevi Order as they call themselves were less militant than the Bektashi. Mehmed, the Conqueror of Istanbul, admired their ideals and sultan Selim III was a member of the order. Mevlana, the founder of the order wrote "Dancing is not getting up any time painlessly like a speck of dust blown around in the wind. Dancing is when you rise above both worlds, tearing your heart to pieces and giving up your soul."

   Because of Islam's disapproval in general of monastic orders, Dervishes from different orders frequently had to gather in out of the way places. Here a Mevlevi Dervish and Rifa'iyah or Howling Dervishes hold their rituals in the Ma'bad al-Riffa mosque in the Eastern cemetery of Cairo.

Click the image to see the entire painting
Detail from 'The Whirling Dervishes' by Jean-Leon Gerome, French. Oil, 1899.
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