Orientalism Art Movement

France, 1750 - 1850

Orientalism Art Movement, History, Orientalist Oil Paintings & Artists.

The Orientalism art movement to artwork featuring Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian themes. Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically "the Middle East", was one of the many branches of Academic art.

Orientalism: First conquer them, then paint them.

Orientalism in art was a great excuse, among other things, to paint nude or semi-clothed women in assuming poses and be able to have the paintings admired and exhibited. With the academic movement in full force, having strict guidelines for what is, or is not, acceptable and how it must be painted, Orientalist painters were given a bit more leeway because this was a completely different subject matter to paint. The European countries were now taking large areas of North Africa and the Middle East as newly established colonies. French Orientalist painting was transformed by Napoleon's unsuccessful invasion of Egypt and Syria in 1798–1801, which stimulated a surge of public interest in Egyptology. These untouched colonies had hardly been explored by the Europeans, and what they saw was a bright, noisy, colorful, relaxed, and sexy exotic world. The famous artists who came over were usually attached to a military expedition, to record the history of the latest conquests, not only military but also social and cultural. The sketches were made into oil paintings, usually upon their return, and when exhibited, created widespread interest in these strange new lands. Although these were not new lands, they were there for millennia and can be found in Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque artThe leading painters at that time were Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio. What was revolutionary was that as industrialization in Europe began to create a middle class and the advent of steamships, these lands became accessible to more artists and "tourists". Having this land under the protection of your home country also made it a somewhat safer trip.

Orientalism is Voyeurism for the Wealthy.

In a significant number of these works, they depicted the Orient as exotic, colorful, and sensual, not to say stereotyped. The French painters Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted many works depicting Islamic culture, including relaxing odalisques. This French name is taken from Turkish and sounds very exotic, but an odalisque is no more than a female slave in a harem, or a concubine. Gérôme was the forerunner, and often the master, of many French painters in the latter part of the century whose works were often salacious, including scenes in harems with concubines, public baths, and slave auctions, and was responsible, with others, for "the equation of Orientalism with the nude in pornographic mode".

When Ingres, painted a colored vision of a Turkish bath, he made his eroticized Orient acceptable by his diffuse generalization of the female forms. More open sensuality was seen as acceptable in the exotic Orient. This imagery persisted in art into the early 20th century, as shown in Matisse's orientalist semi-nudes from his Nice period, and his use of Oriental costumes and patterns. Before he ever visited the East, Théodore Chassériau had already achieved success with his nude The Toilette of Esther and the equestrian portrait of Ali-Ben-Hamet, Caliph of Constantine and Chief of the Haractas, Followed by his Escort.

The Massacre at Chios was painted before he visited Greece or the East. It followed his friend Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa in showing a recent incident in distant parts that had aroused public opinion.. Greece was still fighting for independence from the Ottomans and was as exotic as the more exotic Near Eastern parts of the empire. Delacroix continued his work with Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi, and the Death of Sardanapalus commemorating a siege of the previous year. This painting, although set in antiquity, has been credited with beginning the mixture of sex, violence, lassitude, and exoticism which runs through much French Orientalist painting. Like many later Orientalist painters, he was frustrated by the difficulty of sketching women. Many of his scenes featured Jewish women who were more accessible or warriors on horses. Yet, he was able to get into the women's quarters or harem of a house to sketch what became the Women of Algiers in their Apartment; few later harem scenes had this claim to authenticity, because men were not allowed into the harems, especially foreign men, so most artists were left with fantasizing about what it might look like in there.

British Orientalism, more religion than military.

The origins of the British Orientalist movement in the 19th century owe more to religion than military conquest or the search for plausible locations for naked women. The leading British genre painters made the trip with a Protestant agenda to reform religious painting. I'm hoping to find more authentic Biblical settings and decor in their original locations. Other artists, including the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt and David Roberts, had similar motivations, putting an emphasis on realism in British Orientalist art from the start.

William Holman Hunt many major paintings of biblical subjects, drawing on his Middle Eastern voyages. He improvised variants of contemporary Arab ensembles and furnishings to avoid pure Islamic styles. The scriptural subjects included The Scapegoat and The Shadow of Death.

When Gérôme exhibited The Slave Market at the Royal Academy in London in 1871, it was found very offensive, partly because the British liked to think they had suppressed the slave trade in Egypt, also for cruelty and "representing flesh for its own sake".

John Frederick Lewis painted detailed works showing both realistic genre scenes of Middle Eastern life and more idealized scenes of upper-class Egyptian interiors with no traces of Western cultural influence.

Partly from: Wikipedia

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