Monday, December 7, 2009

AMERICAN ORIENTALIST



The Long Riders' Guild
Edwin Lord Weeks occupies a unique position in the pantheon of Long Rider heroes. There are more famous equestrian explorers, more prolific writers. Yet no one ever documented the world of horse travel quite like this Artist-Explorer. Born into a wealthy New England family, Weeks left Boston in the early 1870s in search of artistic training and adventure. He found them both in Paris. The young American studied with the finest artists of his day, developing a style devoted to absolute realism and love of colour. Then, armed with his palette and passport, Weeks set off to paint the dangerous portions of the world. His first daring journey took him to a forbidden section of Morocco in 1878, where he escaped being killed “by the skin of my teeth.” Back in his Paris studio, Weeks produced large paintings depicting the Oriental mystery and glamour he had witnessed in Morocco. With his beautiful paintings now hanging in prestigious Paris salons, the young painter’s fame was assured. Yet it was his equestrian journey from Persia to India that provided Weeks with the material, not only for a superb equestrian travel book, but the magnificent paintings of mythical India which assured him of artistic immortality. Accompanied by the noted travel writer, Theodore Child, the young adventurers set off in 1892 to ride more than a thousand miles from Trebizond to Bushire. During the course of their journey the two friends encountered a bevy of bad lodgings, bandits, and even death. For ultimately only Weeks managed to ride into India, after having lost his companion to the terrors of the trail. Though the brilliant expatriate artist went on to produce some of the most celebrated Indian paintings ever done, his beautifully written account of the equestrian journey which inspired his masterpieces, has been largely forgotten for more than a hundred years
(thelongridersguild.com)


Village in Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Scene at Sale, Morocco
Oil on canvas, 1879
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Powder Play - City of Morocco, outside the Walls
Oil on canvas, c.1880-1882
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Moroccan Market
Oil on canvas, 1880
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Arrival Of A Caravan Outside Marakesh
The Mountains Of Atlas In The Distance
Oil on canvas
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Man Leading a Camel
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Weeks Brick House
& Gardens
Edwin Lord Weeks occupied a unique position among American painters, even by the standards of those who, like him, dedicated their careers to orientalism as a subject. The scion of an old New England family he left his native Boston for Paris as a student and stayed to become one of the city's most respected exhibitors at the Salons. No other American artist combined as he did a large and exceptional pictorial output with an extensive body of equally fascinating travel writing that captured the imaginations of viewers and readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Having apparently made painting a full-time occupation in 1870, Weeks first went abroad in 1872 and spent the next several years traveling back and forth from the United States to Paris and the Near East. In Paris he appears to have studied initially at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904), but his most important teacher was Leon Bonnat (1833-1922), who instilled in him the dual principles of absolute realism and love of color. Another American pupil of Bonnat's recalled:
"At Bonnat's stern realism was the law. A view of the output of crude torsos, legs, feet and heads suggested a butcher's shop. No one did a thing without the model. It was pure still life...anyone who attempted to temporize with the commonplace ugliness of things was looked at with pity."
(BNET)
A painter can only learn so much sitting in the studio. So after a time with Gerome and Gerome's close friend Leon Bonnat, Weeks and his new wife decided to venture into Arabia, beginning with Morocco in 1878-79. Weeks rapidly realized they had entered a place which "Gerome had never rendered": confronted by disease (his own and others), famine and hostility, Weeks' work would never be the same.
There is something about Weeks' body of work which reveals that he understood he could not lay bare this world to which he was so totally a foreigner. It begins with the modesty with which he described his work. He was a colorist, not an orientalist. He was not someone who could expose the orient to the viewer no matter how long he travelled there (and he did spend a good deal of the remaining twenty years of his life traveling through Persia and colonial India). He demonstrates this both positively, through his chosen subjects and negatively, by what remains unpainted.
On the one hand, Weeks generally approached his oriental subjects from the exterior. Weeks has market scenes reminiscent of Gerome's time in Cairo, but also palaces that are viewed from their courtyards, or from outside their walls, and heads of state, but only as they travel through the city. This self-enforced vantage point can be seen in two of Weeks' paintings of the mosque at Lahore. In the first, "Riders in front of the Mosque in Lahore" there is a gathering of men around the steps of the mosque. They are immersed in conversation, some of them moving either into or out of the mosque itself, others sitting in the sun and of course the gathering of riders. The European viewer toward whom the painting is directed is not granted the intimacy of entering this circle; one is neither included nor given clues about what the gathering portends. One is outside, not only the circle of men but the world itself. The mosque towers above, leaving the top edge of the canvas in a manner that suggests its overwhelming character.
(By Lawrence of Arabia at revolt in the desert)


Entering The Mosque
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Before A Mosque
Oil on canvas, 1883
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


An Open Air Restaurant Lahore
From 01ns.eu


"An Open-Air Restaurant, Lahore" (above), Weeks places the viewer in a more accessible setting. The need for food, cooking and selling, are all realities the viewer can make sense of, but once again, the mosque still looms in the background. Weeks emphasizes that even with the help of greater perspective, a touch-point in something recognizeable, the mosque, and all it symbolizes, is still uncontainable by his gaze, and it once again overwhelms the viewer in its majesty. One cannot completely grasp the world one has entered here, and Weeks refuses to provide the illusion that one can.
(By Lawrence of Arabia at revolt in the desert)


Interior of the Mosque at Cordova
Oil on canvas
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The exceptions to this general practice by Weeks only confirm this idea. Weeks' great mosque interior, which shows men at prayer, is "The Interior of the Mosque at Cordova" (above). Here a few things must be pointed out. First, Weeks chooses to render the interior of a mosque that is on European soil. And while the painting is historical in its content, the title is minimalist. Weeks uses the title to call attention only the mosque interior, reminding the viewer of the history of the building now known in another form. His historical renderings of the Moorish period in Spain, of which the mosque at Cordova is a part, show him willing to enter into hypothesis concerning the interior of Muslim life only at the point in which that life overlapped with European history. And there is no better icon of that overlap than the mosque at Cordova as his viewers would have well known. The historical scenes he renders must be set between the 10th and 11th centuries for once the Christians re-occupied Cordova, the mosque itself was transformed into the city cathedral. Moreover, when need for a larger cathedral arose, they built a magnificient gothic structure that rose dramatically out of the center of the mosque, melding Christian and Muslim architecture and history together in a unique manner. Here is a place, if there is such a place, says Weeks, where one can enter into a mutual understanding with Islam because Europeans share in this moment as a piece of their own history. There is a part of this story he has the tools to understand and render.
This brings us to the final point concerning Weeks' modesty. Unlike Gerome's work, Weeks' is striking in the lack of harems, baths, prostitutes, courtesans, and even the interior of royal courts with the fanciful animals that Gerome portrayed. This cannot be attributed to lack of access. As Weeks notes, the Muslim world was so open and friendly to his arrival in northern colonial India that he had to flee his friends in order to get work done. They showered him with models (human and animal) to paint at his request, to the point where it was necessary to hide to get them sketched and painted. Weeks' decision then is a conscious one. The drama of the private lives of the men and women of the orient were, once again, mysterious to him - not in the manner of being something fantastic, but in the sense of having their own ethic and language in which he could not pretend to be fluent. These were pieces of a puzzle that Gerome had been content to take individually, but which Weeks recognized as part of a whole which he, as yet, could not see. Their lives were not the stuff of European exoticism, but had a reality and depth that Weeks did not know how to penetrate and about which he refused to lie. As he expresses again and again in his paintings, Weeks knew he was standing at the exterior and that the exteriority must remain; there had to be modesty, if there was ever to be a real intimacy of understanding.
(By Lawrence of Arabia at revolt in the desert)


Gate Of The Fortress At Agra, India
Oil on canvas
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


His paintings became more technical and detailed, as in "The Gate at the Fortress of Agra" (above). Paris was his base during the 1880s, and there he exhibited his paintings of India at the Salon of 1884, where he received positive recognition, and soon achieved national acclaim. He continued to make painting expeditions to Persia, Turkey, and India.He received recognition during his international career, and he belonged to several art organizations including the Boston Art Club and the Paris Society of American Painters.
(Oil Paintings Gallery)


Urban scene, probably Gujarat, India
Oil on Canvas
Provenance: Frederick Thom Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario, Canada
From odonwagnergallery


This painting (above) shows nautch girls emerging from a Raj's dwelling in Gujarat, India and heading towards a Gharry, their two-wheeled mode of transport. The Nautch girl as an entertainer of men belonged to a unique class of courtesans who played a significant role in the social and cultural life of India in the 18th and 19th centuries. The word nautch is an Anglicised form of the Hindi/Urdu word "nach" derived from the Sanskrit nritya through the Prakrit nachcha, meaning dance. She represented a delightful synthesis of different cultures and dance forms the classical and the popular. The Nautch girl was no ordinary woman of pleasure. She had refined manners, a ready wit and poetry in her blood. She catered to the tastes of the elite who had the time, resources and aptitude to enjoy her company.
(odonwagnergallery)


East Indian dancer
photogravure by Edwin Lord Weeks
published by D. Appleton, 1880
From columbia.edu


The Barge Of The Maharaja Of Benares
Oil on canvas, c.1883
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Old Blue-Tiled Mosque, Outside of Delhi, India
Oil on canvas, c.1883
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


While many nineteenth-century European artists were known for their “exotic” North African and Middle Eastern subjects, the American expatriate Edwin Lord Weeks was exceptional in also undertaking paintings based on three remarkable extended visits to India (in 1882, 1886, and 1892). In these works, Weeks’s virtuoso talent for the dynamic transcription of brilliant light and color allowed him to represent subjects that some genteel Western audiences might otherwise have found unacceptable. Here, he offered the brightly colorful, if weathered, tiled fa├žade of a mosque as a diverting counterpoint to the figure subject of two armed men in conversation with an old man in a dhoti (a traditional Indian garment).
(brooklynmuseum)


Indian Barbers - Saharanpore
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Street Scene In India
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Wedding Procession, Jodhpur
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Great Mogul And His Court
Returning From The Great Mosque At Delhi, India
Oil on canvas, c.1886
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Return Of The Imperial Court
From The Great Nosque At Delhi
In The Reign Of Shah Jehan
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Indian Prince, Palace Of Agra
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Indian Prince And Parade Cermony
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


A Street Market Scene, India
Oil on canvas, 1887
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


"A Street Market Scene, India" (above) is a fine example of Edwin Lord Week's quotidian street scenes of northern India. In these paintings, Weeks demonstrated his great skills in draftsmanship, color and texture in his precise yet suggestive visual records of his Indian travels-the very ordinariness of the scene contrasting sharply with the beautiful forms, rich colors and textures of the elements and actors depicted. The scene is entirely characteristic of north Indian city streets, in which the street is the promenade and a row of shops occupy a built-up platform beneath an arcade of windows and bracketed balconies. In the present work, the city depicted is probably Udaipur (then Oudeypore) as suggested by the elaborate windows and shallow balconies, depicted at the right side of the painting, and by the white plaster covering the building walls. In his travel journal from the Black Sea through Persia and India Weeks wrote of Udaipur as 'an endless expanse of white.'
The painting was executed circa 1887 in two stages. Initially, the architectural backdrop of the picture would have been painted in situ; a plein air rendering of the physical context. The second stage of the painting would have been executed either while still in India or, more likely, some time later in the artist's studio in Paris. In this second 'campaign', the figures and animals would have been added to the painting, based upon a multitude of such elements and poses Weeks had executed in India. The present painting is highly finished, suggesting it was completed in Week's Paris studio. a metalsmith's shop in the shadowed background of white walls and delicately fashioned arched openings. The whitewashed setting serves as an an almost neutral background off which the artist plays with great still-life of dancing color and reflections - from a large copper pot, to copper and brass jugs and bowls, stacked on high. The pot in the woman's hands brilliantly reflects the sunlight in its brassy colors and reflections. The figures, too, are brilliantly rendered, with variegated silk and cotton embroidered costumes, and flowing translucent white muslin. The women's arms are covered in silver bracelets, their ears in long silver earrings and their necks in goldnecklaces - all of which suggests they may be nautch dancers from the Court. The women's bare midriffs, unusual in more southern parts of India, caught Weeks' attention at the time.
(columbia.edu)


The Maharahaj of Gwalior Before His Palace
Oil on canvas, c.1887
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Arrival Of Prince Humbert, The Rajah
The Palace Of Amber
Oil on canvas, c.1888
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Upon his return to Paris, in 1893, Weeks soon began a series of Persian paintings, which he continued intermittently until his death only a decade later. Weeks was the only major Orientalist painter to depict Persian subjects, and these works are among his most magnetic achievements. "Traveling in Persia" (below) depicts a pair of horses and their chavadars, or handlers, that Weeks' party retained to organize the caravan from Tabreez to Teheran. With his characteristic eye for visual detail, Weeks noted 'each of these weather-beaten old horses, with head-stall of fringed leather, straps and bridle ornamented with shells and blue beads, and his worn pack-saddle, shredded and patched with many colors, like a beggar's mantle is a wonderfully interesting study of color. Around their necks, among the many-hued tassels, or from their sides, are hung bells, and bells within bells.'
Indeed, this painting, with its painterly background and suggestively rendered foreground figures, brilliantly captures the weather-beaten character of its subjects. All the detail is there-down to the bright droplets of water from the horse's mouth-but handled with Weeks' naturalistic detail, eschewing the brittle imagery of many of his contemporaries. It is a fine example of an observed moment during his travels, executed in Weeks' characteristically picturesque style.
(Dr. Ellen K. Morris at CHRISTIE'S)


Traveling in Persia
Oil on canvas, c.1895
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


A Persian Cafe
Oil on canvas
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


E.L. Weeks was a member of the Boston Art Club, Legion of Honour, and the Paris Society of American Painters. His paintings are held in museum collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Louvre in Paris.
(odonwagnergallery)


Royal Elephant at the Gateway to the Jami Masjid, Mathura
Oil on canvas, c.1895
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center



6 comments:

Brian Yoder said...

Your blog has some very nice articles about artists and artistic subjects! Would you mind if we republished some of them on the Art Renewal Center website? Drop me a line at brian.yoder@artrenewal.org.

--Brian

rompedas said...

Yes, you may republish some of them on the Art Renewal Center website.

marcus j.borg said...

nice paintings thanks for sharing such good art work....

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rompedas said...

Thanks Marcus.

AVISEK said...

Amazing. i wonder if he had also documented his ride across the continent in a book.Are any of the art related organisations in INDIA aware of his great works ?.

rompedas said...

Dear AVISEK,
1. Yes, he documented his travel in a book. In 1895 he wrote and illustrated a book of travels, From the Black Sea through Persia and India, and two years later he published Episodes of Mountaineering. He died in November 1903.
2. He spent two years in India before returning home to Paris. His paintings of Indian life gave him celebrity both in France and America and they became his specialty. According to his own letters, spent every day painting and every night developing his photographs, which he probably used for recording the architectural details and backgrounds for his compositions. He was to return again in 1892, commissioned by Harper's Magazine, this time accompanied by the journalist Theodore Child who was to write a series of articles on their travels with illustrations by Weeks.
3. Many individuals, if not any art related organization, are sharing the paintings which are related to Indian history. Different culture were illustrated under Muslim Government Mughal Empire. Then the British were there (East India Company) and governed communities like hindu, muslims, Sikhs and other famous cultural communities. He drew stunning illustrations, paintings and caricatures on those era, which was simply unforgettable.