On a day that the two largest communities in India ponder over the court judgement over a piece of land, that has been the cause of emotionally charged and sometimes tragically violent responses, I would like to put the spotlight on the role of artists of any discipline in bridging divides between people. In my previous post I talked about the Manganiyar singers of Rajasthan, muslims themselves who sang in the courts and celebrations of their Hindu patrons, the Rajputs. They sang in praise of Allah, and Krishna. They celebrated and continue to celebrate the multi-cultural fabric of the world around them.
In this two part series, a first for my blog, I would like to showcase two Orientalist artists who played a similar role, on a different land in a different time – bridging two communities with a past filled with conflict.
By the end of the eighteenth century, French and British colonies started to come up in various Eastern countries, such as Egypt, Africa, Persia, Iraq, Arabia, Palestine, Turkey, and Lebanon. Many artists and writers traveled to these countries in search of new subjects and stimulation. The paintings inspired by the Eastern and Mediterranean cultures were termed as Orientalist. Orientalist paintings held a mysterious charm for the West and were an instant success in the Western Art world. These paintings were not just beautiful pieces of art, but were also a glimpse for the West, into the exotic lives of the Easterners.
This has to be viewed in context of what had happened centuries ago. Although the orientalists came about centuries after the crusades, they still hold an important sway in the gradual familiarization of the west to beliefs, customs, lifestyles, aspirations and emotions of people from a land considered different and hostile for centuries. Those were different times: information travelled slower and public memory was longer. The Crusades had far-reaching political, economic, and social impacts, some of which have lasted into contemporary times.
The Orientalists, artists to the core, weren’t blinded by prejudice or burdened by the weight of history. They saw beauty and were inspired by it. Through their art, western audiences were exposed to a view of life in the middle-east and Africa. Sometimes intruiging and mysterious, other times familiar and close to heart – learning to look at people as people.
The paintings in this first part you see are by Ludwig Deutsch. Born in Vienna , his early work consisted of historical subjects but by the early 1880′s Deutsch’s themes became primarily the day-to-day Orientalist paintings for which he is known. Deutsch made several trips to Egypt during his life and many of his settings are from Cairo.
His work is done in rich, vibrant colors and his subjects and themes both exotic and fantastic. Deutsch paid great attention to detail and captured the opulent environment of the oriental land he visited beautifully.
While this collection of paintings by Deutsch, showcase once aspect of fascination of orientalist artists ie with the architecture, upholstery, fabrics, colors and decor from the east, in part two I shall feature Gustave Bauernfeind whose paintings were more about people, customs, glimpses of everyday life from the east.