Evening Prayer in the Sahara is one of my favorite Orientalist paintings. I love the way Gustave Guillaumet captured the serenity and inherent introspection of the desert and combined it with what is a common occurrence of Muslims praying, and yet it transcends its subject matter to give us a portrait of man’s communion with his god.
Gustave Guillaumet was a french artist born in 1840 and became a student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1861 he tried for the famous Prix de Rome, a contest of historical painting where the winner would be able to go study in Rome for three to five years at the king’s or the government’s expense, but his painting didn’t win. The next year he was on a trip to Rome by himself and suddenly changed his mind and sailed across the Mediterranean to Algeria in north Africa. He would go on to make this trip ten more times in his life.
Guillaumet chose subject matter that was not as exotic as some other Orientalists and focused on scenes that were closer to the character of the desert. In The Sahara, we see the dessicated corpse of a camel that is slowly becoming part of the desert, and far off in the distance the hint of a caravan just cresting the horizon.
In this sketch of a painting I love how he was able to capture the sense of light and atmosphere even though it was painted very quickly with thick paint. It is not dated so we don’t know exactly when it was painted, but it shows his passion for north Africa and the people who lived there.