Jackie Wullschlager finds something new to say about Orientalism which goes beyond the work of Edward Said and embraces the Gulf States’ own interest in the works without actually making that interest central to her new interpretation of Orientalism as an important escape for painters from European academic art:
Baudelaire called Delacroix “the last of the great artists of the Renaissance and the first modern” – the one who found a new language for 19th-century visions of desolation, disintegration and dread. In 1832, disenchanted with Paris, Delacroix made a trip to Morocco and Algeria, gained exceptional access to a harem, and returned to present the sensational “Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” at the 1834 salon. He continued to work on the motif until his death – a later example is shown here – while the theme of the forbidden gaze reverberated through European art history: both Renoir and Picasso revisited Delacroix’s harem.
But “Women of Algiers” is also about colour, richly deployed. Throughout the 19th century, oriental themes licensed romantic colourists from Géricault – his “Pasha”, on a golden seat in a brilliant crimson robe, is here – to Théodore Chassériau, who was haunted by his visit to Algeria in 1846. His strange, tormented pictures attempt a synthesis between Ingres’ classical rigour and Delacroix’s vehemence, notably in “Combat of Arab Cavaliers”, lit with yellow and red notes for the brightly costumed horsemen, and the theatrical oval panel, “The Death of Cleopatra”.
Forty years later, Renoir, seeking fresh impetus and greater luminosity to further impressionist experiments, landed at Algiers and in intense, spontaneous, short strokes depicted the over-heated “Arab Fete”, a packed musical festival seen against scorched white domes and towers. Within a decade, Henri Evenepoel, young Belgian friend and fellow-traveller of Matisse, made the same journey and painted his own light-drenched crowd scene, “Orange Market at Blidah”, whose flattened forms and chromatic daring anticipate fauvism.
Orientalism After Said (Financial Times)