Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, The white Slave, 1888, oil on canvas, 149,5 x 118,3 cm. Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts © RMN/Gérard Blot
With some 150 paintings and sculptures, the major exhibition Orientalism in Europe: from Delacroix to Kandinsky presents the diverse interpretations of the Islamic Orient, North Africa and the Middle East by almost 100 western European artists. This survey starts with Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign (1798-1801) and continues through to the Modernism of the early 20th century. Masterpieces by Ingres, Delacroix, Gérôme, Renoir, Sargent, Klee and Kandinsky present Orientalism as a diverse artistic theme that transcends styles, artistic perspectives and national borders. Also awaiting discovery are magnificent works by lesser known artists like Lawrence Alma Tadema, Gustav Bauernfeind, Jaroslav Čermák, Henri Evenepoel, Fabio Fabbi, Osman Hamdi Bey, John Frederick Lewis, Alberto Pasini, Edward Poynter and José Villegas y Cordero.
James Tissot, The Journey of the Magi, ca. 1894, oil on canvas, 70,8 x 101,6 cm. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund © The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Many artists now started actually travelling to various locations as official emissaries of western governments or on their own initiative in order to document cultures that were considered to be unspoiled. Some of them even settled there permanently. In turn, their paintings and photographs fostered further tourism and shaped a particular image of the Orient that was strongly influenced by colonial motivations. Some dreamt of sensual pleasures from the Tales of 1,001 Nights, which are reflected in the numerous depictions of drug and harem fantasies. Others were fascinated by the emotionality of a forbidding culture that had been considered 'barbaric' until then. During the 19th century, Islamic cities were rediscovered in southern Spain, thereby sparking off a great deal of curiosity for the Orient.
José Villegas y Cordero, The Slipper Merchant, 1872, oil on canvas, 48,3 x 65 cm. Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum © The Walters Art Museum
For academic artists, the search for the roots of civilisation was of prime importance; this included not only the classical monuments but also those landscapes that were considered unchanged since the time of Jesus Christ, in order to represent historical and biblical paintings more realistically. The infinite expanse of the desert offered a unique artistic challenge, and the developing sciences of ethnography and anthropology were also reflected in art. The exhibition concludes with works by several modern artists who were equally unable to resist the allure of the Orient and who interpreted the topic with a new pictorial expression.
Eugène Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1844, oil on canvas, 73,7 x 82,4 cm, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny © The Philadelphia Museum of Art
It is a challenge to identify with the perception of the contemporary audience of these artworks and trace the creator's intentions, particularly because we are currently facing a similar situation. In the globalised world of the 21st century, the different moral concepts of east and west are still colliding and the original fascination with this foreign culture is sadly lacking in the discussions on burkas and minarets. Thus, an exhibition that documents the West's view of the Orient not only presents magnificent works of art but also some of the history of the conflicts and projections. One successful aspect of the exhibition would be if it managed to uncover a wider diversity of facets on this topic, thereby leading to a greater understanding of today's positions.
Charles Cordier, Saïd Abdallah, 1848, bronze, 84 x 49 x 37 cm. Paris, Musée de l’Homme © Musée de l’homme
This exhibition is the result of a cooperation between the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation and the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels, where it was on show from October 15th 2010 to January 9th 2011, and the Musées de Beaux-Arts in Marseille in collaboration with the French Réunion des musées nationaux. The presentation in Marseille will take place from May 27th to August 28th 2011 at the Centre de la Vieille Charité.
Jean-Léon Gerôme, Harem Ladies in the Kiosk, ca. 1870-1875, oil on canvas, 76,2 x 111,8 cm. Private Collection Najd © Private Collection Najd
Hirmer Verlag in Munich has published the exhibition catalogue, edited by Roger Diederen and Davy Depelchin and which also includes contributions by Roger Benjamin, Jan de Hond, Robert Irwin, Isabelle Lemaistre, Peter Benson Miller, Christine Peltre and Eugène Warmenbol (312 pages, 238 illustrations).
Léon Bonnat, The black Barber of Suez , 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 58,5 cm. Minneapolis, Curtis Galleries © Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, MN
Wassily Kandinsky,, Arab Cemetery, 1909, oil on canvas, 71,5 x 98 cm. Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011
Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, The Dream of a Eunuch, 1874, oil on panel, 39,3 x 65,4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Seventy-fifth anniversary gift of Mrs. Noah L. Butkin © The Cleveland Museum of Art
MUNICH.- A painting, entitled The Death of Cleopatra by Austrian artist Hans Makart is on display in an exhibition, entitled Orientalism in Europe: From Delacroix to Kandinsky, at the Art Hall of Hypo Culture Foundation in Munich, Germany. With some 150 paintings and sculptures, the exhibition presents the diverse interpretations of the Islamic Orient, North Africa and the Middle East by almost 100 western European artists. EPA/FRANKLEONHARDT.