Frederic Lord Leighton House

Born to a Doctor and a mother who believed that the British air was not healthy, Frederic Lord Leighton gained his artistic training in mainland Europe learning to speak German, French, Spanish and Italian. Once he returned to Britain he purchased a plot of land and hired his friend architect George Aitchison to build his home. The arts and culture he discovered on a trip to north Africa when he was 27 inspired him to include Arabic decoration and construction in his home which took 30 years to complete.

FREDERIC LEIGHTON Perseus and Andrómeda
Perseus and Andromeda by Frederic Lord Leighton

At the bottom is a link to a virtual tour of his home which is now the Leighton House Museum, will take you into the mindset of one of the most famous British artists of the 19th century. In particular, the contrast of his bedroom with the rest of his house speaks volumes. Frederic, Lord Leighton was a member of the Aesthetic movement who believed that art should be beautiful and didn’t need any other reason to exist.

It makes me wonder if his house was an extension of that philosophy and his room was a personal sanctuary.

Leighton House Virtual Tour
Leighton House Museum

Gustave Guillaumet

Evening prayer in the sahara by Gustave Guillaumet
Evening Prayer in the Sahara by Gustave Guillaumet

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.

TheSahara by Gustave Guillaumet
The Sahara by Gustave Guillaumet

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.

Mountains in North Africa, with a Bedouin Camp by Gustave Guillaumet
Mountains in North Africa, with a Bedouin Camp by Gustave Guillaumet

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.

Orientalists at Auction

A Storm in the Egyptian Desert by Hermann Corrodi
A Storm in the Egyptian Desert by Hermann Corrodi

Corrodi is fast becoming one of my favorite Orientalists. I love his sense of light and the way he can use a broader brushstroke to convey information without getting too bogged down in detail. I also like how he uses atmosphere to convey mood.

This painting also happens to be part of an upcoming auction of 19th century and Orientalist art at Christies on June 15th.

Anyone got an extra sixty grand they could lend me?

Christies Auction Catalog

Orientalists – Jean-Leon Gerome

In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte set out to invade Egypt as a means to reduce British influence in the Mediterranean, but he also believed that it shouldn’t be just a military conquest and should have educational and scientific goals. Along with his army he set up the Sciences and art commission of the army of the east which was 167 members strong. From this expedition they started to publish Description de L’Egypte (Description of Egypt) in 1802, a ten volume book of what they saw and found.

This started a rage for all things about the near east, which they called the Orient, and inspired the golden age of Orientalist painting. Jean-Leon Gerome was taken with the fad and became possibly the most famous Orientalist painter.

Arab Purchasing a Bridle by Jean-Leon Gerome

Arab Purchasing a Bridle is one of my favorites by Jean-Leon Gerome. I love the way he’s split the composition into three main values. The white of the horse, the diagonal middle tone from lower left to upper right and the two shadow areas on the top left and lower right corners. The shadow areas are key to this painting since they relieve the eye from some of the almost too crisp details he tends to get in some of his paintings.

The Serpent Charmer by Jean-Leon Gerome

The Serpent Charmer might be his most known work, and also one of his most controversial. It has been maligned as having a hidden sexual meaning between the boy and the men watching, it has been pointed out that it combines Egyptian, Turkish, and Indian elements as as such is a “complete fiction”, and (along with Orientalism in general) shows the superiority of colonial culture over those that were colonized since it was painted by a Frenchman.

Much of these thoughts and criticisms are being overturned in recent years since they are not supported by historical evidence and it is being recognized that Orientalism as a genre has been used as a whipping boy to prop up a political agenda.

And it astounds me that the true subject of the painting, that magnificent blue wall, gets overlooked by critics. The boy’s hand and the head of the snake are practically pointing at it, and Gerome has even added the weapons on the wall to stop your eye and make sure you see it. Viewed in this context the men and boy serve as compositional devices and an excuse so we are not left wondering why the artist painted just a wall if they had been left out.

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx by Jean-Leon Gerome

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx brings us back to Napoleon. Gerome wasn’t born until 1824 so this is a scene he imagined took place.

I love that the Sphinx is not yet excavated and that no archaeologists have dug trenches or marked off grids. This is the spirit of exploration as one man confronts something both amazing and mysterious at the same time. Which for me is the true heart of the painting, and Orientalism as a whole.