Orientalism in the arts

The Orientalism is a born literary and artistic movement in Western Europe in the 18th century. For its size and vogue throughout the xix th century, it marks the interest and curiosity of artists and writers for the west country (the Maghreb) or the Levant (the Middle East). Orientalism was born out of the fascination of the Ottoman Empire and followed its slow disintegration after the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s and the progression of European colonizations. This exotic trend is associated with all the artistic currents of the xixth century, academic, romantic, realistic and impressionist. It is present in architecture, music, painting, literature, poetry… A picturesque aesthetic, confusing styles, civilizations and eras, Orientalism has created many clichés and clichés that can still be found today in literature or cinema.

The Napoleonic campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801, which enabled Champollion’s further investigations), the war of independence from Greece (1821–1829, which sparked a wave of European sympathy, and which was attended by Lord Byron), the war Crimea (1854–1855, during which the “ charge of the Light Brigade ” occurred) and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869, for the inauguration of which Verdi composed Aida) contributed to increasing interest in a richly documented exoticism.

In romanticism, seduction by the east fulfilled the same role of distancing itself from reality as medievalist historicism. Washington Irving found in Granada the conjunction of both (Tales of the Alhambra), contributing to the generation of the topic of Spanish exoticism. The translations of Richard Francis Burton (the Kama Sutra, 1883, and The Thousand and One Nights, 1885) had a greater impact (possibly due to his explicit eroticism). The concept of “east” that occurs in these works operated as a mirror of Western culture itself, or as a way of expressing its hidden or illicit aspects, in keydecadentista. In Gustave Flaubert Salammbô’s novel the ancient Carthage is the opposite of ancient Rome : a Semitic race and culture opposed to Latinity, morally corrupting and imbued with a dangerously attractive eroticism. His influence was added to the configuration of the imaginary anti – Semitism that had already begun with the wandering Jew of Eugene Sue. The exotic literature of British imperialism had its highest representative in Rudyard Kipling (Kim of India, The Burden of the White Man).

Representations of ” Moors ” and ” Turks ” can be found in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art. But it was not until the 19th century that orientalism in the arts became an established theme. In these works the myth of the exotic, decadent and corrupt Orient is more fully articulated. Painters such as Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexander Roubtzoff recreated themselves in representations of all kinds of scenes set on stages in the Arab countriesNorth Africa and the Middle East. Both the landscapes and the interiors accentuated the exotic and sensual aspects of contrasts between the cloudscape and the dazzling light of the desert and the dark interiors, the fancy colors of the clothing and the seductive flesh-in all shades, from black to dark. pearly white, passing through the brown-; especially in the scenes of the baths and the harems, which allowed the voluptuous representation of nudes or semi-dresses of the odalisques in positions of inciting laxity. When Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, director of the French Académie de peinture painted a very colorful vision of a Turkish bath, made this eroticized orient become publicly acceptable due to its diffuse generalization of the feminine forms, which could all have been the same model. Sensuality looked acceptable in the exotic Orient. This style had its peak at the Universal Exhibitions in Paris in 1855 and 1867.

Orientalist painting
The orientalist painting is a painting that addresses themes revolving around the orientalism. It is therefore not a particular style, movement or school of painting. The interest of the West to Orientalism became aware of the 18th century, but especially in the xix th century that the attraction for oriental themes will experience its peak. However, the xx th century Orientalist themes will gradually disappear and somehow we can consider that the independence of the1962 marked the end of orientalist painting in France.

The themes approached in orientalist painting are quite varied, but have in common to refer to oriental themes, or at least to the western vision of the east. In the xix th century, found mostly scenes harem, scenes of hunting and combat or even representations of typical landscapes such as deserts, the oasis and the eastern cities. In the following century, these themes will gradually fall into disuse in favor of a more precise and less idealized ethnographic painting.

From a technical point of view, orientalist painting is marked by the use of colors with warmer tones, favoring more red, yellow or brown hues. The light is warm, the contrasts accentuated.

Orientalist painting is deeply linked to travel. It is true that certain artists did not leave Europe or the United States, like Antoine-Jean Gros, nevertheless famous for his Bonaparte and the plague victims of Jaffa. However, many have actually traveled to the Maghreb or the Machreq. This was the case with Eugène Delacroix who went to Morocco and Algiers in 1832, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps who moved to Greece and then to Asia Minor in 1827,Prosper Marilhat who accompanied a scientific expedition to Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Lower and Upper Egypt from 1831 to 1833, or Théodore Chassériau who, in 1846, went to Constantine then to Algiers ; and again, until 1914, by Matisse, Fromentin, Vernet, Maxime du Camp, Dinet, Kandinsky…

In 1893, the Salon des Artistes Orientalistes was created in Paris, which marked the peak of this style of painting.

There is also an English Orientalist school with the British Empire, an Italian school and a Russian Orientalist school with the Caucasus and Islamic Middle Asia.

Some orientalist painters were:

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867)
Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)
Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856)
Eugène Fromentin (1820–1876)
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)
Léon Belly (1827–1877)
Willem de Famars Testas (1834-1896)
Gustave Guillaumet (1840–1887)
Alexandre Roubtzoff (1884–1949)

Orientalist works are specified in Islamic, Hebrew and other cultures of Semitic origin, since it was these that were visited by explorers and travelers, who, in the case of French artists, were enchanted and concentrated much of their travels in the North from Africa. Another typical scene, which rests and reiterates in sensuality, like those of the harem, are the quiet odalisques, women who embodied the ideal and stereotype of orientalism. However, the reality is that despite the postcards and the idealization of the exoticism of the East, the Europeans had very little real contact with this world, since knowledge of this area basically responded to two factors; on the one hand, to military campaigns and conquests, and on the other, by intermittent trade routes.

In this order, the European presence in Egypt – from the invasion and occupation of Napoleon’s French troops that lasted from 1789 to 1801 – attracted a significant number of western travelers to the East, many of whom captured his impressions through painting and engraving. With this, in the year 1809 the French government published the first edition, of 24 volumes, called Description of Egypt – description de l´Ègypte – which illustrated, among others, topography, wildlife; flora and fauna, monumental architecture of ancient Egypt, and population.

This publication was the most influential among the multiple that tried to document the culture of this region and its influence on the French decorative arts and architecture, it is undeniable, because in the Imperial Period the Egyptian motifs influence By way of example, in France, the Paris monument of Fontaine du Fellah is clearly a benchmark of inspiration originating in the East. However, Egypt transcended Europe, in terms of influence, in several empires there are examples of them include Russia, with the Egyptian Gates of St. Petersburg and the United Kingdom, with the Egyptian Hall in London.

The encyclopedic character of the publication Description de l´Ègypte, otherwise highly distinguished from the 19th century and the era of codifications, hand in hand with the illustrations of the multiple travelers, had the primary objective of being propaganda and support of imperialism French. The foregoing, given that the Orient was illustrated as an exotic, novel and unusual space, but in any case backward, lawless and barbaric, a situation of inferiority mitigated by the French conquest, a military occupation that more than imposing laws on the East Napoleonic, he carried the illustration with his nationals.

An important painting to analyze the imperialist and propaganda gaze is the work of Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), one of Napoleon’s favorite historical painters, is the oil painting “Napoleon Visiting the Jaffa Sick.” The mentioned work represents the concept of orientalism in itself, since, as Said says, orientalism is a system built by works and authors and therefore a sign of power in Europe. With this in mind, the artist Antoine-Jean Gros never visited the East, however, in his painting exotic dresses are recognized, with the colors and fabrics characteristic of the East built by Europe, and also the monumental architecture typical of those lands. Thus, more than a collage with the ideals of the East, the propaganda in favor of French imperialism is constituted with the visit of the Emperor, Napoleon, to the prisoners affected by the plague in Jaffa. This image not only refers to the collective imagery of Christendom, with the Emperor as a source of divine and charitable power, in the midst of chaos and the crisis adjacent to a plague. In this order of ideas, in the occasions in which the deployed motifs of the East allowed to include Christianity, the artists made use of it. The above,

This co-occurrence between the representative elements of the East, such as clothing and architecture, with the need to capture the greatness of the Empire, continued to be a repeated reason for edges of Romanticism. In this period, it is necessary to speak of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), who beyond depicting the cruelty and violence of the situations of war and conquest in Egypt, did it hand in hand with romantic themes such as uncontrollable force and extreme emotions.

This being the case, it is impossible to speak of orientalism in the arts without speaking of Eugéne Delacroix, since he not only painted images such as those of the Harem in situ, but also built his vision of the Orient from his work is the Orientalism of which Said speaks, given who dedicated himself to describing the Eastern reality from the naturally imperialist political ideas of the great colonizers and, therefore, “the imaginary examination of the realities of the East was based, more or less exclusively, on a sovereign Western consciousness”. This is reflected, to cite an example, in that the odalisques despite the colorful and exotic environment are of European physiognomy. Another important motif of Delacroix’s work is marked by the emphasis on military brutality, reflected in the motifs, the contrast of colors and the emotionality in the painting, because with it, too, they evidenced the reality of the walking conflicts at this time. historical: the war in Greece for independence, the French conquest of Algeria and the War of Crímea.

This liveliness in Delacroix’s painting is possible because the artist was not relegated to the images documented in the Description de l´Ègypte, on the contrary, he traveled more than once to these lands and visited regions such as Egypt and Morocco. For this reason, the day-to-day experience and the daily life in general took the motifs of the painting of the traveling artists.

The orientalist imaginary persisted in art until the beginning of the 20th century, as evidenced by Matisse’s orientalist nudes.

The use of the Orient as an exotic curtain continued in the movies, for example in many of Rodolfo Valentino’s. Later rich Arabs in robes became a popular subject, especially during the oil crisis of the 1970s. In the 1990s, the Arab terrorist became the preferred villain figure in Western movies.

In the 18th century

The Turquereries and the Representation of the Ottoman Empire
Launched in France by the evocation of the Ottoman world in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme from Molière to the 17th century and by the translation of the Tales of the Arabian Nights by Antoine Galland in 1711, is an artistic movement that marks the interest from this epoch for the cultures of the peoples of all regions dominated by the Ottoman Empire, from North Africa to the Caucasus. This attraction for elsewhere, the search for exoticism, influenced society. The salons of the bourgeoisie and the nobilitygave costumed receptions and balls on the fantastic and colorful model of the Oriental courts: the fashion of Turqueries is associated with the fashion of rococo or baroque chinoiseries. Some wealthy figures took the pose, to paint their portrait, dressed in silky clothes becoming sultan or emir.

One of the most famous examples of this aesthetic in music is the Turkish March of Mozart. This orientalism will serve as a “cover” for Voltaire and Montesquieu in Zadig and Les Lettres persanes, they will find there a ploy to satire the Western world under the guise of foreign characters.

In the xix th century

Napoleon and the Egyptian expedition
With Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi (1826), Eugène Delacroix gives a representation of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan War.

Literature of the XIX th century
India: less present in France than in Great Britain, the representation of an oriental Hindu exoticism with elephants. Work by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book, Stories like that.
Flaubert and the trip to Egypt, trip to Tunisia to paint Carthage better in Salammbô.
Chateaubriand: voyage to the Orient from 1806, Palestine, Egypt, Middle East: The route from Paris to Jerusalem, travel notes
Nerval and Lamartine, Journey to the East
Victor Hugo, Les Orientales
Pierre Loti is inspired by his travels and wrote in 1879 Aziyadé then Fantôme d’Orient in 1892. His house in Rochefort has become a museum, the decoration of certain pieces fully reflects the writer’s taste for exoticism, the taste opium too…

The representation of the Middle East in painting
Inspired by the Middle East, pictorial orientalist art in France does not correspond to any particular style and brings together artists with works and personalities as different and opposite as Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Horace Vernet, Théodore Chassériau, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Eugène Fromentin, Félix Ziem, Alexandre Roubtzoff, up to Auguste Renoir (with his Odalisque of 1884), or even Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso at the beginning of the xxth century. It is therefore rather a vast theme that runs through the different pictorial movements from this period.

A famous example of orientalist architecture is in the castle Sammezzano in Tuscany in Italy, built in the mid xix th century. In France, under the Second Empire, the style was associated with the Universal Exhibitions, in particular that of 1867 which reconstructed a Turkish district of the Bosphorus.

Orientalism is synonymous with leisure architecture, sea bathing, casinos and Moorish thermal baths are built in Trouville or Hendaye, from Eaux-Bonnes to Aix-les-Bains.

The Salon of Orientalist Painters
In 1893 in Paris, the Salon of Orientalist painters took place, which showed the success of exotic themes.

Then in 1908 the Colonial Society of French artists was founded.

Modern orientalism, in painting, is an extension of so-called classical orientalism, and takes its source around the years 1905-1910 with the creation of the villa Abd-el-Tif and its price from 1907 [ref. required]. It finds its full development after the First World War to extend until 1960. Besides this school, contemporary painters of the years 1910-1970 brilliantly took over and continued the orientalist motif, landscapes, nature, genre scenes, such as Henri Pontoy (1888-1968), Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), Paul Élie Dubois (1886-1949), Edy Legrand (1892-1970) until Gustave Hervigo (1896-1993),Paul Fenasse (1899-1976), Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932)

Contemporary Orientalism
After the dismantling of the French colonial Empire and the independence of Algeria, there is no longer strictly speaking an orientalist school, but painters of orientalist inspiration, like the French Jean-François Arrigoni Neri (1937 -2014), Roman Lazarev, (born in 1938), or Patrice Laurioz (born in 1959), and the Algerian Hocine Ziani (born in 1953).

Spain and Andalusia
In Spain the main example was Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874), who traveled to Morocco where he fell in love with local picturesqueness. Moroccan themes were also treated by Josep Tapiró (1836–1913) and Antonio Fabrés (1854–1938).

With this, it is clear that the East, which includes Turkey, Greece, the Middle East and North Africa, became the center of fixation and inspiration – for textures, exoticism and color – for the different Western artists. This source was a reference and place of inspiration for various artists of the Baroque period such as Rembrandt, who in turn were nourished by the opulent eroticism represented in the harem scenes, whose value in the West, in addition to introducing a new conception of dress and sensuality It rests on the fact that it changed the way of conceiving the approach to the erotic, since in the East it was part of the culture and, consequently, cultivated and not prohibited. Character clearly marked by the little, or better null, incidence of Christianity in Eastern culture. Too, the romantics marked their contrasts and emotion in the oriental typologies. What is typical, or better, the stereotype of the Orient, is: the color, the exotic and the sensual.

Some themes

The fantasized harem
At that time, the pictorial representation of nudity was shocking [ref. necessary] if it is not justified. However, the harem (or seraglio) wants to be the expression of an unknown elsewhere. Customs are different and certain practices tolerated (such as slavery, polygamy, public bathing, etc.). This tolerance leads in Europe to a phenomenon of fascination-repulsion for the harem, place of sexual despotism par excellence of the sultan. Indeed, the harem, so distant from European customs and culture at the time, was the subject of many questions, but also many erotic fantasies. Harems dreamed, fantasized, imagined – notably by Jean-Léon Gérôme – are often populated with lasciviously languid odalisques, offered, in the vapors of the bath 5.

Although this fantasized vision is largely in the majority, the role of the “orientalist” woman cannot be summed up there. Thus, some artists, such as Henriette Browne 6 and Jean-Baptiste van Mour 7, have a completely different vision: they are interested in the harem as a social space 6 and place of life 7. In their paintings, women are not only dedicated to the pleasure of their master. They can also be mothers 8 and engage in daily activities such as embroidery, reading, games, music and dancing 9.

The dream, moreover, the exotic Orient
Most of these paintings depict an orient between reality and imagination. All the artists who, at that time, represented the Orient did not necessarily travel to the countries of the Middle East. However, the majority of so-called orientalist painters such as Delacroix and others undertook long journeys in the Maghreb countries to bring back many sketchbooks which they used for the composition of their paintings once returned to the country.

However, Etienne Dinet abandoned the register of his first themes, in particular the nude, to devote himself to exploring the human condition of the Bedouins. His painting translates both the soul of his model and the local colors vibrant under the Saharan light. The result is an aesthetic and human work. Dinet also ended up spending most of his time in Algeria and converted to Islam.

The desert
That of the Sahara was widely represented by French orientalists, so much so that Théophile Gautier affirmed in 1859 that there are as many umbrellas as landscapers than in the past, in the forest of Fontainebleau. It serves as a backdrop to historical scenes, to the representation of long caravans (Léon Belly, Pilgrims going to Mecca, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, or is the main reason for it (as in Le Sahara by Gustave Guillaumet (Paris, Musée d’Orsay) The depiction of sandstorms makes it a dramatic motif (Ludwig Hans Fischer, Bedouins in a sandstorm, around 1891 or Jean-François Portaels, Le Simoun, 1847 (Brussels, royal museums of fine arts of Belgium).

The consequences of the heat in the desert were portrayed by Eugène Fromentin around 1869 in Au pays de la soif (Paris, Musée d’Orsay).

In the xx th century cinema
The many clichés conveyed by painting and orientalist art find a natural extension in mainstream films like The Cheik of 1921, narrating the story of a young independent Englishwoman falling under the spell of a desert sheik (Rudolph Valentino) and joining his harem.

The beginnings of abstraction applied to the Orient: Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Paul Klee (1879-1940) represent the major figures of the beginnings of abstraction, an abstraction which is revealed to them through the play of harmonious and vivid colors of the Orient. They thus place themselves in the line of Delacroix who questioned the contribution of the various luminous shades.

Vassily Kandinsky
Abstraction is above all an artistic expression in accordance with spirituality. The book Spiritual in artde Kandinsky aptly evokes this notion of “internal necessity” advocated. Passing through Holland then Tunisia, Italy, Switzerland… he freed himself from classical figuration to work more on the perception of shapes and nuances. It is a means, in the words of Vanessa Morisset, of arriving at this “increasing autonomy of colors” operated by the observation of Berber geometric forms. Indeed, Kandinsky abstracts the shapes of the dunes, cities and their minarets, their mosques, the trivial elements that compose them to add a transcendence of color. The landscape is then transfigured into a balanced and rhythmic arrangement of colors and lines.

This intrinsic perception of the artist is successfully reflected in Les Nègres of 1905. In addition, he develops a syncretism with his own culture by mixing aspects of daily life in Western Russia and Germany with representations of Tunisian landscapes.

Paul Klee
The greatest tribute paid to the eastern luminosity, and especially Tunisian, is offered by the artist Paul Klee. He even owed him his career as a painter:

“I give up work now. The atmosphere penetrates me with such sweetness that without putting any more zeal in it, there is more and more self-confidence in me. Color has me. There is no need to try to grasp it. She owns me, I know it. This is the meaning of the happy moment: color and I are one. I am a painter. ”
– Paul Klee, Journal, Thursday, April 16, 1914.

Klee has already taken an interest in color issues at Robert Delaunay. He thus notes in his journal: the type of the autonomous painting, living without reason of nature of an entirely abstract plastic existence. A formal organism with its living breath, almost as far from a carpet – it must be emphasized – as a fugue by Bach.

However, his brief trip to Tunisia from April 3 to 25, 1914 accompanied by August Macke and Louis Moilliet is a real revelation. His new look takes hold of architecture and, like his contemporary, he seizes it to geometrize it and make it organic thanks to light. The culmination of his colorist research formulates a new abstract aesthetic of the orientalist landscape: Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible according to the famous quote from Klee. The sense of sight dissects the various chromatisms of the Tunisian prism: sunlight, reflections, green oases opposite the arid sand…

Musicality and abstraction
The very expression of total artwork takes place in the rhythm of the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. The first orchestrates a “thunderous concert of colors” which oscillates its compositions between harmony and disharmony. While the second transposes a polyphonic measure through an architectural landscape. Also it should not be forgotten that Paul Klee worked all his life as a violinist. This is the case in his 1929 work Hauptweg und Nebenwege [Main and secondary roads]carried out fifteen years after his first trip. Indeed, Klee discovered Egypt from December 24, 1928 to January 10, 1929, perfecting the play of lights and lines like an original musical score. We can distinguish a reference to the Nile and its many branches, which organize the surrounding cultures, as well as the brilliant reflections of the water. In a letter dated April 17, 1932 to his wife, Klee prophesied: I paint a landscape a bit like the view from the barren mountains of the Valley of the Kings towards the fertile region, preserving as much as possible the lightness of the polyphony between substrates and atmosphere.