Artworks and Artists of Orientalism

Progression of Art
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: Grande Odalisque (1814)

Grande Odalisque

Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

This work shows a reclining nude who turns to look at the viewer and various elements - the peacock feather fan she holds, the colorful turban she wears, a hashish pipe at her feet, the drapery and bedding - situate her within an imagined harem containing a fusion of Turkish and Babylonian iconography. By placing the woman within an Oriental setting, Ingres was able to depict a European nude with frank eroticism, made acceptable by the exotic context. The nude references classical works such as Titian's Venus of Urbino (1534) and Giorgione's Dresden Venus (1510), although the pose is most directly drawn from Portrait of Madame Recamier (1800) by Jacques-Louis David.

The painting, commissioned by Queen Caroline Murat of Naples, is notable for its anatomical distortions, which are meant to draw and titillate the erotic gaze of the viewer. The woman's right arm is longer than her left, and, her exaggerated spinal curvature would be accurate only if she had several extra vertebrae. Ingres employs an exquisite Neoclassical line and high finish to create a sense of objective observation, as if merely conveying what he sees, while, at the same time, his distortions of form for emotional effect bring in a Romantic element. His approach, combining an imagined scene with a polished technique, while exaggerating exotic and erotic elements, was to form the foundation for much of the Orientalist academic painting of the 19th century.

The odalisque became a notable element of subsequent art, as seen in Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863) and the Fauve works of Henri Matisse. At the same time, this image has become a flashpoint for contemporary feminist and post-colonial art, as the Guerilla Girls, a feminist art collective calling itself the "conscience of the art world" repurposed this image in 1989 through the addition of a gorilla mask, to call attention to the art world's inequity, using it to pose the question "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?". A number of other contemporary artists have also reframed the work, as seen in Renee Cox's Baby Back (2001) critiquing male European views of African women. The Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi decontextualizes this work in her Femmes du Maroc: Grand Odalisque (2008), stating that through her reimagining she seeks "to present myself through multiple lenses as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite viewers to resist stereotypes".

Oil on canvas - Louvre Museum, Paris

Eugène Delacroix: Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834)

Women of Algiers in their Apartment

Artist: Eugène Delacroix

Set within an Oriental interior, furnished with Persian rugs and woven tapestries, this painting focuses on four women. One on the left reclines in an odalisque position, her half-shadowed gaze appraising the viewer. To the right two women appear to be in conversation and on the far right a black slave with her back to the viewer turns as if caught in midstride as she leaves the room. The arrangement and poses of the seated women are open and seem to invite the viewer into the private space, this is juxtaposed, however, with the challenging expression of the woman to the left. Although the image does not contain the overt eroticism of the Grande Odalisque, the loose clothing and dishabille appearance of the women alongside the Orientalist tropes such as the inclusion of a narghile pipe point towards their role as courtesans. The painting presents a complex contrast between Delacroix's detailed studies of dress and interior decoration made during his visit to Tangiers in 1832 and his incorporation of these into the European fantasy of the harem.

With this image, Delacroix gave Romantic impetus to the Orientalist genre of harem painting, while employing his scientific approach to complementary and contrasting color. The rich color palette combined with the soft depth of the shadows and the rays of sunlight that fall diagonally into the room from an implied window on the left, creates a sense of warm and vibrant intimacy. As Paul Cézanne said of Delacroix's work, "All this luminous color...It seems to me that it enters the eye like a glass of wine running into your gullet and it makes you drunk straight away."

This painting influenced countless artists as seen in Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Parisiennes in Algeria Costume (1872) and most notably Pablo Picasso's fifteen paintings series, Les Femmes D'Algers (1954-1955). Jonathan Jones has noted that the work "is one of the first 19th-century masterpieces of French eroticism, a radical genre that would lead through Courbet's Origin of the World (1866) and Manet's Olympia (1863) to Picasso's own revolutionary 1907 work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." The work has also provoked contemporary artistic responses, as seen in the Algerian Houria Niati's No To Torture (1982), a series that as art historians Nicholas Serota and Gavin Jantjes wrote, questions "the exotic stereotype created by Delacroix's women of Algiers and perpetuated in Picasso's fifteen canvases based on the same work. Historically Delacroix's original coincides with the establishment of French colonial rule in Algeria, and Picasso's abstracted versions mark the end of that rule."

Oil on canvas - Louvre Museum, Paris

Théodore Chassériau: Scene in the Jewish Quarter of Constantine (1851)

Scene in the Jewish Quarter of Constantine

Artist: Théodore Chassériau

This painting depicts two Jewish women and a child who sleeps in a basket suspended by ropes. The room, poorly furnished and simple, with its neutral colors creates a contrast with the vivid color palette of the women's clothing, headscarves, and jewelry. The woman on the right whose gaze rests on the child, conveys a maternal solicitude, while the younger woman on the left, looks forward, as if daydreaming. Chassériau combined the emphasis upon figurative line of his teacher Ingres with the influence of Delacroix's rich colors to create his own unique style, capturing the emotional resonance of his subjects.

Chassériau saw this scene during a trip to Algeria in 1846 and made a preliminary sketch, writing, "I have seen some highly curious things: primitive and overwhelming, touching and singular. At Constantine, which is high up in some enormous mountains, one sees the Arab people and the Jewish people [living] as they were at the beginning of time." In this image he conveys the strangeness of the scene by emphasizing the basket suspended from the ceiling, its ropes creating a triangle that fills the center of the frame, this is juxtaposed with the domesticity of the women, a contrast of the everyday and exotic. The women's dress indicates that they are wealthy but this is at odds with their environment and the woman on the left does not wear shoes, a detail associated by Europeans with the 'uncivilized East'. This aside, the women themselves are complex and individualized, rather than stereotypical. As art historian, Marc Sandoz, wrote the artist "seems to have been seeking a way to revive and modernize contemporary portraiture" by emphasizing the internal psychological realms of his subjects.

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

John Nash: The Royal Pavilion (1787-1822)

The Royal Pavilion

Artist: John Nash

The Royal Pavilion at Brighton showcases an Oriental style that incorporates a vast assortment of motifs and details from India, the Middle East, and Asia, featuring Indian Mughul-style architecture, Middle-Eastern minarets, and Chinese pagodas. A large onion dome becomes the visual focus of the building, its verticality emphasized by the two tall minarets on either side, and the columns symmetrically arranged beneath it. The pale stone, large windows, fretwork and horseshoe arches create a sense of light and airiness that replicates the feel as well as the appearance of Eastern architecture. The result is a building that is a composite of architectural ideas to create a fantasy palace of lavish extravagance, not unlike the "stately pleasure-dome" discussed in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan (1816), a classic of Romantic poetry.

The Pavilion was designed and built for George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), who was fascinated by Oriental themes and exotic styles. The architects Henry Holland, then Peter Frederick Robinson were involved in the early stages of building work, but the appearance of the Pavilion today is fundamentally the design of John Nash who began working on the project in 1815. Nash drew inspiration from Oriental Scenery (1795-1808), a six-volume work by Thomas and William Daniell. The architect used an innovative cast iron structure for the building and pioneered the use of wood prestressed beams, and laminated ribs to create the striking shapes. The interior design was completed by Frederick Crace and Robert Jones and was equally fanciful featuring Indian and Chinese design elements. The work is considered a landmark of Orientalist architecture.

Cast iron, wood, brick, stucco, other construction materials - Brighton, UK

Auguste Salzmann: Jerusalem, Valley of Jehoshaphat, Tomb of Saint James (1854)

Jerusalem, Valley of Jehoshaphat, Tomb of Saint James

Artist: Auguste Salzmann

This photograph focuses on the Tomb of Saint James in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, its four columned entrance in the center of the image. The Valley, including tombs of other Biblical figures such as Absalom and Zechariah, is believed by Christians to be the place where the Last Judgment will occur. Emphasizing the black tones in the entrance to the tomb, the photographer creates a feeling of solemn mystery in what is beyond the columns. The stone cliff, cracked by shadowy fissures, fills the pictorial frame creating a strong sense of endurance and immovability, echoing the significance of the Valley to Christian belief. Salzmann wrote that his photographs adhered to "biblical text from which I have not erred, and that I have always taken as a base and starting point for my observations".

In 1853 Salzmann first went to Jerusalem to photograph Biblical sites, following the archeologist Félicien Caignart de Saulcy's presentation that argued that various architectural features in Jerusalem dated to the time of the Biblical kings David and Solomon. In the dispute that followed, Salzmann felt that photographs could provide an objective account. After several months in Jerusalem he returned to France, where his images were shown to much acclaim. As a result, the Ministry of Public Instruction gave him a commission to visit the Middle East to photographically study sites important to the Crusades. This photograph was part of the series that he created on this trip and was published in his book Jérusalem. Etude et reproduction photographique des monuments de la Ville Sainte depuis l'époque judaïque jusqu'à nos jours par Auguste Salzmann, chargé par le Ministère de l'instruction publique d'une mission scientifique en Orient (1856).

While serving the purposes of accuracy, Salzmann's photographs also evinced an artistic mastery as art critic Loring Knoblauch writes, "One of the Salzmann's repeated use of deep black tonalities, a relative rarity in 19th century processes....[his] studies of enclosures, cloisters, and colonnades use the darkness of the cast shadows as a key compositional feature." In his search for historical and biblical truth, Salzmann was very much an Orientalist, seeing the world of the Holy Land as ageless and frozen in time, while employing the most modern of tools to research it. As Alison Meier writes, "Salzmann represents an outsider's 19th-century attempt to find that...past through its visible details. With their heavy tones, the prints are beautiful, but they're also a visual exhumation of time, using photography as the excavator".

Salted paper print from paper negative - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

William Holman Hunt: The Finding of the Savior in the Temple (1860)

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple

Artist: William Holman Hunt

Hunt's painting depicts Jesus as a boy, who faces the viewer and leans toward his mother who speaks into his ear, while Joseph stands attentively behind them. A huddle of Jewish elders and young scholars, to whom the boy had been preaching, begins in the lower left and extends into the dark interior of the temple. The scene is dramatically focused on the contrast between the Holy Family, energetically upright, Europeanized in appearance, and the Orientalized Jewish elders, passively sitting on the floor, many of them hidden in shadow. To the far right, various elements including a dove, the mast of a fishing boat with several fisherman, and a bearded man praying in front of the temple, allude to the Holy Spirit, the twelve disciples, and the Messianic promise. The boy leans towards the future, while looking out at the viewer with a gaze that conveys the religious significance of the moment.

Hunt was one of leaders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and this work shares the movement's interest in painting naturalistic scenes taken from literature, in this case the Biblical story of how Joseph and Mary, looking for Jesus who had wandered off, found him preaching in the temple. Hunt was drawn to the subject because of his own religious conversion in the 1850s, and as F. T. Palgrave, an art critic and friend, wrote, the picture showed "the turning-point from prophecy to fulfillment; the child's first consciousness of who he is, the earliest call to his mission, the revelation of himself to himself."

Hunt wanted the work to be accurate in its ethnographical details and went on a trip to the Middle East to learn of the people and culture, which he represented precisely in this image. As literary historian George P. Landrow writes, "the realistic detail that so many critics took to be the incarnation of a purely scientific attitude functions to aid the spectator in experiencing the scene emotionally." The Orientalism of the scene and the juxtaposition between the detailed rendering of the Jewish listeners and the Westernized appearance of the Holy Family continues to provoke contemporary debate. As art critic Valdislav Davidzon notes, "In its claiming of Jesus as a Christian European child engaged in oppositional dialogue with his aged ancestors, the painter quite clearly establishes what Saïd could never admit: that the specific 19th-century European fascination with the Orient was in some large part the manifestation of a much older cultural anxiety about the debt that Christian Europe owed to the pre-Islamic East."

Oil on canvas - Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK

Léon-Auguste-Adolphe Belly: Pilgrims going to Mecca (1861)

Pilgrims going to Mecca

Artist: Léon-Auguste-Adolphe Belly

A caravan, led by a number of riders on camels, crosses the desert in heat so intense that color seems bleached out and shadow takes on a sharp solidity. The caravan fills up the canvas diagonally from the center left of the distant horizon to the right center where the pilgrims come into sharp focus, as if sweeping up the viewer into the procession. The forward momentum creates a sense of determined effort. The naturalistic detail of each figure conveys a sense of individuality, while, at the same time, the compact density of the group conveys a sense of shared purpose and community. Shown at the 1861 Paris Salon, the painting was awarded the highest prize, as one critic wrote, "it seemed as if every visitor had become part of the caravan."

In 1856, Belly traveled to Egypt to make the studies for this work, saying that he wanted to paint, like Courbet, "the truly beautiful and interesting features of the everyday life of our fellow men." The artist employs a naturalistic style in the details such as the worn knees of the camels and uneven surface of the earth. At the same time, however, the camels are exaggerated in scale, as evidenced by the dwarfed figure of the man dressed in white walking in the lower center, and a wild looking man, shirtless and with a shaved head, leads the caravan. As a result, the artist both emphasizes the exotic elements for his audience and conveys that the scene is a reality precisely observed. The large scale of the canvas reflects the significance of the pilgrimage to Mecca and to reinforce the religious themes, the artist has painted a man walking beside a donkey, ridden by a woman holding an infant, thus creating an allusion to the holy family and the flight into Egypt perhaps with the intent of portraying the oneness of faith.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Bashi-Bazouk (1868-69)


Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme

This compelling portrait depicts a black man in profile, his dignified bearing emphasized by his resplendent silk tunic and an intricate and beautifully colored headdress. The effect is visually dramatic and exotic, as the color palette and use of light and shadow draw the viewer's attention to the surfaces of the materials and the tones of the man's skin. Gérôme made this work after one of his many tours of the Middle East in 1868, but as with most of the artist's Orientalist works it was conceived and created in his Paris studio. Here, a model has been outfitted with the clothing and weaponry that Gérôme collected on his trip to depict a Bashi-Bazouk, or 'broken head' soldier, who was part of the irregular forces that fought for plunder with the Turkish army on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. The artist's staging of the portrait reveals how the European audience valued the sumptuous materials and exotic appearance of Eastern culture, as much as the subjects depicted. As a result, the sitter, his 'broken head' symbolizing soldiers who served without the hierarchal discipline of the regular army and were particularly noted for their ferocity, seems untouched by any contact with battle. Rather the image resembles a modern fashion shoot.

Gérôme was known for his cinematic sense of spectacle, making his work both acclaimed and popular within the Neoclassical world of the Academy. An art critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1884 wrote, "There is a great deal of character and dramatic power in the picture," but, later, Gérôme's work fell out of favor, criticized by poet Charles Baudelaire as the leader of "the meticulous school" and seen as staid and artificial. Nonetheless he has had a contemporary influence upon the painter Jon Swihart, and his Policce Verso (Thumbs Down) (1872), a depiction of a Roman gladiator in the ring both popularized the gesture and inspired the film Gladiator (2000).

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Prayer in the Mosque (1871)

Prayer in the Mosque

Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme

This painting shows the interior of Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, (built in 641-642) in Cairo, as worshippers gather for one of the five daily prayer sessions. The artist has composed the image in thirds, the worshippers occupy the lower third of the canvas, while the middle third is made up by cross beams that create dynamic visual interest by diagonally intersecting with the verticals of the columns. The upper third of the canvas is given to the repeating shapes of the horseshoe arches and a chandelier around which pigeons fly. The division and structured architectural elements create a feeling of balance in the piece. Similarly, the worshippers are divided into three groupings. A cross section of society is presented, from the wealthy man standing on a prayer rug to a solitary holy man, wearing only a loincloth. A diagonal of men praying extends through the center of the canvas into the distance, conveying the spaciousness of the mosque. The emphasis upon the architecture, its shadowy and light filled depths, and its repeating patterns of red and white create a sense of quiet reverence, of the worshippers as part of a greater reality. At the same time, the figures are static, and that, combined with the construction crossbeams, suggest a reality frozen in the past.

In the 1860s Gérôme began painting a series showing Muslim men at prayer in mosques or outdoors, of which this is considered to be one of his masterworks. At the time of his 1868 visit to Egypt, the Mosque of Amr had fallen into ruin and was not rebuilt until 1875, so to assure accuracy of details, he relied on sketchbooks, the works of Orientalist scholars like Edward William Lane, photographs, and other accounts. A fierce critic of Impressionism, Gérôme emphasized in this work the perspective and architectural composition of the Neoclassical tradition. As art critic Glenn Harcourt has written, his "masterful technical skill draws you into his represented worlds in ways that entice, seduce, and finally force you to grapple with them both on their own pictorial and ideological terms".

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gustave Moreau: The Apparition (1876)

The Apparition

Artist: Gustave Moreau

This image depicts Salome, dressed in revealing and bejeweled Oriental-inspired dress, as she stops in her dance to point toward the head of John the Baptist, his halo emanating light, floating in the center right of the painting. Behind Salome, her mother dressed in richly colorful clothes, and King Herod, dressed in white Oriental robes, gaze without reaction toward the apparition. The young woman playing a lute, and the executioner, his sword at his side, face the viewer but seem unaware of the severed head floating between them. As only Salome reacts to the vision, the scene becomes deliberately ambiguous, and hovers between vision and hallucination. The scene's setting is taken from the Alhambra in Granada, and its aged golden light, combined with his innovative watercolor technique and use of incised lines and highlighting, led to his work being dubbed Byzantine.

This depiction of Salome renders her as a lustful figure, described by Moreau as "a bored and fantastic woman, animal by nature and so disgusted with the complete satisfaction of her desires [that she] gives herself the sad pleasure of seeing her enemy degraded". As an artist he became obsessed with Salome, creating 25 paintings and watercolors and over 200 drawings of her, so that the subject became identified with his opus. This is the most erotic of his images and his Salome embodies the femme fatale of 19th century literature, who was, at once, both seductive and destructive. He also aligns her with the unfettered sexuality associated with Eastern women in many Orientalist portrayals, particularly images of harems.

The Apparition became the best known of his works, influencing the writers Gustave Flaubert, Stephane Mallarme, and Oscar Wilde, and the artist Odilon Redon, and giving impetus to a wide number of artistic and literary depictions of Salome into the early 20th century. Due to Moreau's treatment, Salome became a late 19th century symbol of Orientalism and his work informed fin de siècle art particularly the Symbolist and Decadent Movements.

Watercolor - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Snake Charmer (c. 1879)
c. 1879

The Snake Charmer

Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme

This controversial work, an example of late Orientalism, depicts a naked boy holding a python that coils around him as he stands on a small carpet before an audience of armed men leaning against a tiled wall. To the right of the boy, an older man sits on a cushion as he plays a fipple flute. Painting in his signature Academic style, Gérôme employs tight brushwork and a highly finished surface to create a near photorealistic approach to make an imagined scene seem like an accurate representation.

Gérôme had visited Constantinople in 1875 but created this image in his studio, incorporating some elements from his trip into the work. The work is a composite, using pseudo-Islamic tiles to create the blue background, and the Arabic calligraphy on the walls has a number of errors, just as the men wear costumes and carry weaponry from a number of diverse tribes. The overall composition, however, both invites the viewer to an erotic view of a child and allows for the viewer to make a moralistic judgment of the men watching. This reinforced stereotypes regarding the perceived difference in morality and sexual practices between East and West. Art critic Jonathan Jones described the work as "a sleezy imperialist vision of 'the east,' where voyeurism is titillated and yet the blame for this is shifted on to the slumped audience in the painting."

At the time, Gérôme painted the work, the French and British governments were emphasizing the Westernization of 'the East' to enlighten its suggested primitivism and depravity, and in many ways the work reflects this movement and the propaganda associated with it. At the same time, the artist was a leading opponent of the Impressionist movement, and as Jones, writes, "this is a glitteringly cinematic slice of orientalist fantasy. Gérôme was the kind of painter the Impressionists were rebelling against - a pristine purveyor of high-gloss dreams."

Oil on canvas - Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson

"Orientalism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 08 Jul 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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