Orientalism begins its ascent
The Orientalist painting market has been gaining velocity and visibility. The Wall Street Journal gives us a very brief precis of the action here. We gave you a little taste here. For a slightly more detailed explanation of what’s driving these collectors, allow me to quote myself from this New York Sun story in April:
Orientalist art is prized by Western collectors, as well as by denizens of Turkey, North Africa, and the Gulf States. But the two sides come at the art from different motivations. Americans are concerned with painters, pedigree, and connoiseurship. Collectors from the Middle East are seeking images of familiar and cherished places. Egyptians want Cairo street scenes. Turkish buyers look for views of old Istanbul. An Algerian might want a painting with the ancient gates of his city and so on.
The one attribute that both sides value is accuracy. And it is a quality that requires a keen eye to spot. In the 19th century, painters looking for the path to prominence could easily whip up scenes from the distant East. A journeyman painter could buy some Eastern bric-a-brac at market and dress up his favorite French model in bright robes to sell a picture. The more adventurous would travel east and paint from their sketches upon return. Today, collectors pore over paintings to make sure every topographic and ethnographic detail is correct.
What makes Orientalism compelling is the intersection of some very good–and some great–painters with subject matter that will become increasingly important in global culture as the Arab world, in general, and the Gulf States, in particular, become more closely integrated into the world economy. We’ll have more analysis on the Orientalist market this Fall.