The Alma-Tadema painting from my last post is just one of many late 19th century works that feature an item of inlaid furniture. In that case, an inlaid Syrian chest figures prominently in a British home elaborately decorated in the style of the ‘the East’. Such furniture was also found in 19th century European paintings from a movement called Orientalism, which idealized views and scenes of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Wildly popular at the time of their creation, these paintings fell out of favor, much like the Pre-Raphaelites, only to be re-appreciated at the end of the 20th century. Along the way they have stirred up much controversy about the patronizing nature of Orientalist views, but I am going to leave the politics aside and just share the decorative aspect of the paintings.
John Frederick Lewis’ Intercepted Correspondence from 1869 was a painting I looked at and perhaps should have included in my post on Iznik ceramics and the language of flowers. In it, a young woman is caught before her master with a bouquet from her lover. Much can be said about this work, but it is the elaborate mashrabiya, the dowel latticework covering the window openings and the small inlaid table on the bottom right side that catches my eye today. Over and over again, the key props in the work of the Orientalists are these types of screens, Iznik tiles, elaborate carpets and textiles, pipes, musical instruments and of course, inlaid furniture. In all of the paintings below, each one has the ubiquitous inlaid side table somewhere – be sure to spot them.
The 19th century painters aren’t the only ones to have a fascination with the east, for example 18th century Swiss-French painter Jean-Étienne Liotard visited Istanbul and painted numerous scenes like the one below, a formal precursor to these later works.
But the advent of easier travel and discovery created an insatiable desire for the exotic and painters were happy to comply. Lewis spent ten years living in Cairo, which gives his work a very authentic feel.
Arthur Melville, a Scottish painter, also traveled in Persia, Egypt and Turkey from 1880–82.
Austro-French painter Rudolf Ernst traveled to the Middle East in 1885. I am particularly intrigued by the bench in this painting as it is so reminiscent of the ones I recently purchased here. To see Ernst reusing his inlaid props over and over again, click here.
In 1858 English painter Frederick Goodall spent eight months in Egypt, and he returned in 1870. He continued with Orientalist themes throughout his very successful career.
One of the most common scenes painted was the interior of the harem and Lewis wasn’t the only one to paint it. These are clearly a fantasy view of the harem as the male painters would never have actually been able to enter the female spaces.
French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme visited Egypt for the first time in 1856. He too became fascinated with orientalist themes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Orientalists and I only included paintings with inlaid furniture in them for the sake of brevity and cohesion. I’m sure I’ll be returning to the subject sometime in the not so distant future.
If these richly adorned spaces have caught your eye, you must take a look at Bill Willis’s work in the 1960s and 70s for Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge amongst others in Marrakech. There is a great piece in the The Wall Street Journal really worth perusing and exploring for anyone interested in design related to the Middle East and North Africa. The late Alberto Pinto has some amazing rooms (including this lavender one I am always going on about) in his portfolio and his hard to find book Orientalism. More recent fantasies include Veronica Webb’s Key West home in Architectural Digest and Howard Slatkin’s extraordinary Orientalist library in New York City.
And as for the actual painter of the Alma-Tadema painting at the very top of the post? I was utterly sure I was on to something and that his daughter Anna had painted it, so I dug deep and came up with this great post. It always feels good to be right! I also think I need to get the book she mentions, Artistic Circles: Design and Decoration in the Aesthetic Movement.
Artist Spotlight…A Final Dose of Japonisme for the New Year
Artist Spotlight…William Merritt Chase’s Japonisme Interiors
Artist Spotlight…An Impressionist Feast of Fans
Carnation Fixation…Iznik Pottery
Thoughts for 2012…We Are The New Victorians
Then and Now…Howard Slatkin’s Fifth Avenue Style
Trifore…Magical Triple Windows in Lebanese Houses
Divide and Conquer…Thomas Hamel, Jalis and Shoji Screens