These rare works by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) are up for auction at Sotheby’s at the end of April for an anticipated sale in the region of US $1.3 to $1.98 million for Rider and his Steed in the Desert (above). “Painted in 1872, this evocative work captures the moment on a hot afternoon in the implacable brightness of the desert sun, as a horseman comforts his exhausted steed against the backdrop of a range of barren hills,” Sotheby’s notes.
With great mastery and a director’s eye for narrative, Gérôme evokes the utter stillness and loneliness of the desert air. The heat is made almost palpable to the viewer through the bright sun on the rider’s brilliant white headdress and dishdasha, and the sun reflecting off the horse’s shiny coat.
Prayer in the Desert (above) depicts a vast desert landscape with a long caravan trailing into the distance. The caravan leader has stopped to pray, “a lance thrust into the ground beside him, a detail that not only provides a striking vertical element to an otherwise horizontal composition, but evokes the shape of a minaret. The man’s white Arnaut skirt, and his weaponry is rendered in the artist’s characteristic, highly detailed style.”
In the 1860s, Gérôme began a series of paintings depicting Muslim men at prayer. These would become a signature theme of the artist, and among his most popular Orientalist works.
In this work, Gérôme depicts the daily maghrib, or evening prayer, performed on the housetops of Cairo. In the background, the distinctive skyline of the city is visible, with the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and the Medrasa of Sultan Hasan helping to identify the setting as the Qasaba, near the Bayn al-Qasrayn – Sotheby’s
A Desert Encampment (1908) is by the famed artist Henri Rousseau, who studied in Paris in the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme. While Gérôme was famous for his controlled academic style, Rousseau espoused the freer aesthetic – characterized by bold and dynamic brush strokes, Sotheby’s notes. His paintings of Moroccan and Algerian life typically depict nomadic horsemen, surrounded by open spaces and high skies, or town scenes. Rousseau was born in Cairo and remained no stranger to North Africa.
Sotheby’s Orientalist catalog for the April 29 auction, here.