Orientalist Art to Headline Sotheby's First-ever Major International Auction Series in the Middle East

Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932), A Hard Bargain. Estimate of $450 000-550 000

The Orientalist Genre is an area of the international art market that has returned to the fore in recent years and Sotheby’s has over the last year alone staged sales of Orientalist Art in New York, London and Paris, with worldwide totals bringing more than $36 000 000. Now, Sotheby’s will offer some 78 particularly appealing examples of Orientalist painting in its first-ever auction series in the Middle East. The Orientalist Sale, on March 18, 2009, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Doha, Qatar is expected to fetch in the region of $5 000 000 and it will present an impressive showcase of Middle Eastern-inspired works by European artists, including superb examples by eminent Austrian, Swiss, French, Italian and Polish artists in the field.

Ali Can Ertug, Senior Vice President, Strategic Business Development, Middle East at Sotheby’s, comments: “Sotheby’s is delighted to be offering Orientalist Art as part of its first series of sales in the Middle East, and the sale follows our first travelling exhibition of Orientalist works to the region in October last year. It is very exciting to add Doha to our international selling locations for Orientalist Art and for the forthcoming auction, we have put together a tightly edited group of appealing works, which we believe will cater to the tastes of our Middle Eastern clients.”

Leading the sale in terms of value will be three works by the Austrian artist, Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932), who is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and sought-after Orientalist artists. Ernst was infatuated by the Orient and he first turned to Orientalist subjects in 1885, basing them on observations he made and the numerous sketches, photographs and souvenirs that he accumulated during his earlier travels to Spain, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt. His paintings are some of Orientalism’s most coveted images.

With an estimate of $450 000-550 000, A Hard Bargain is the most valuable of the Ernst works on offer. This rare picture depicts three smartly dressed men choosing the unlikely surface of a niche prayer rug on which to count their coins and it features many of the artist’s favourite still-lifes and decorative motifs. The artist’s The Waterpipe Smoker deals with the theme of leisure and luxury and is estimated at $400 000-500 000. This composition captures a nobleman clothed in luxurious silk and velvet and surrounded by grandeur and wealth. The Presentation is the third notable work by Ernst and this carries an estimate of $350 000-450 000. The appearance of all three works on the market follows the huge success of the sale of Ernst’s The Fountain of Ahmed III, Istanbul, which realised a record breaking price of $1 200 000 at Sotheby’s New York last April.

Otto Pilny (1866-1936) was a Swiss artist who is believed to have studied in Vienna, a city that became synonymous with Orientalist Art in the 19th century. His first trip to Egypt – the favourite destination of the Austro-Hungarian school – took place in 1889 and a second journey followed three years later. The paintings that resulted from his trips recorded not only the landscapes and people that he encountered but also the magical effects of Eastern light and sun.

Evening Prayers, 1910, estimated at $200 000-250 000, showcases the artist’s fascination with the harsh light and landscape of the desert. It captures a sacred moment of prayer at the first sign of sundown and while it is rare to witness different stages of prayer at the same time, Pilny illustrates the cyclical movement of the body through each motion of the “rak’a.” The artist’s rough brushwork recreates the rugged texture of the desert and his strokes are fluid and directional, converging in the centre of the painting so that the sun looks like it is being engulfed by the desert. The remarkable palette of pink and golden paint employed provides an ethereal glow.

The two French artists, Numa Marzocchi de Belluci and Henri-Emilien Rousseau, will also be well represented. Numa Marzocchi de Belluci is best known for his scenes of Algeria, which he exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1878 onwards. In A Lesson in the Koran, Marzocchi has captured the quiet and meditative atmosphere between a teacher and his students during a class on Islam. The colours used in the painting are appropriately demure and muted and are in direct comparison to the brighter palettes of other Orientalist artists who romanticised the Orient. The artist’s rendition of this intimate scene shows his respect for the Islamic culture; he does not exotify his subjects but gives an accurate portrayal of a very common scene. A Lesson in the Koran is estimated at $65 000-75 000.

Henri-Emilien Rousseau was the child of a French civil servant and he spent his childhood in Egypt. Like many other Orientalist painters, he was drawn to the subject matter of Bedouin horsemen and desert life. As a pupil of Jean-Leon Gerome he adopted Gerome’s passion for the Orient and interpreted his subjects using an impressionist and vivacious approach. Arabs at an Oasis, estimated at $75 000-85 000, showcases Rousseau’s travels and intimate experiences with Bedouins; he was known to have befriended many of the Caids of North Africa. The quick and sketchy brushwork suggests a keen sense of observation, capturing the movement of the Bedouins with their horses.

Further highlights of the sale include A Wedding Procession by the Italian artist Fabio Fabbi (1861-1946), estimated at $120,000-180,000, and The Camel Driver by the Polish artist Adam Styka, which is estimated to fetch $100 000-150 000.

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Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 8:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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