Orientalist Art

By Highet, Juliet | The Middle East, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Orientalist Art


Highet, Juliet, The Middle East


In February 1990 an Orientalist painting by Jean-Leon Gerome depicting Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite, fetched $2m at a Sotheby's auction in New York. This was a record price that was not to be equalled for nine years; the early 1990s being the' zenith for staggering price's paid for all types of art, the climax of an international movement which had gathered momentum during the 1980s. That gravy train came to a shuddering bah just about that time, and only began to gather speed again at the end of the decade. In 1999, again in New York, this time at Christie's, Gerome's "View of the Wailing Wall" reached $2,312,500. This world record price was achieved for a type of art of which is so little known and appreciated that its very name, Orientalism, is confused with Oriental art.

Then came 9/11, and for the US at least, everything 'Arabian' became deeply unfashionable. A disastrously ill-timed sale of Orientalist art in New York just afterwards saw only four paintings sell out of 20. But at last the tide seems to be turning, and at Sotheby's London in June of last year, "Interieur Grec", once again by one of the masters of the genre, Gerome, realised $1,842,226, close to the world record.

So what is this niche corner of the art world, and is it just globetrotting Arabs nostalgic for a vanished past who are paying such jaw-dropping prices? The term 'Orientalist Art' originated from the 'Salon des Orientalistes' held in Paris in 1899, exhibiting work by western, primarily European artists of their fantasies of Arabia--paintings of the Middle East and North Africa, more or less exotic, more or less accurate. Many of these 19th century artists developed a genuine respect and affection for the regions in which they travelled--for their people and culture, architecture and oasis life. Some, notably the Italians, were true studio travellers, working from photographs, escaping the poverty arid squalor their more adventurous and peripatetic fellow artists so studiously avoided painting.

In its own time, the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was an extremely bullish market for Orientalism, which stimulated excess production and some second-class work. The inevitable reaction saw to it that Orientalism, became so unfashionable and ignored, that many museums and private owners sold their collections and prices plummeted. In the last two decades or so, a re-evaluation has taken place and interest in the genre has been rekindled.

"The majority of my sales are still to Arab clients," said Brian Macdermott, of the Mathaf Gallery in London. "Last year the Arab market started off very firm," be noted, "Then it calmed down with the Iraq War; now it's picking up again. It's a very seasonal affair, with Arab buyers coming into England for the summer" a fact corroborated by Mark Poltimore, Senior Director at Sotheby's, London, and a specialist in Orientalism. "Arabs feel very comfortable about coming to London, and often have agents and homes here. London is a better sales arena than anywhere else for this kind of art--there's an old alliance between the UK and the Middle East. Saudi Arabian clients are still buying, though less since the war in Kuwait and usually through an agent, but Qatar and the Emirates are a much bigger market."

During the 1970s and 1980s, a series of international exhibitions in which Orientalism was reassessed in wider historical and cultural contexts, ensured its critical re-appraisal and brought it back to public notice.

"It's not just an Arab oriented field any longer," said Macdermott. "In value, rather than numbers, the widening of business to the American and European markets in the last 10 years has rivalled that from the Arab world. Rather surprisingly, we've seen some American buying during the war in Iraq. In fact I would say that it really didn't have much effect on our business, nor has there been any discernable resentment in our trade on the part of Arabs against Britons and Americans. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Orientalist Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.