Masterpieces up for grabs

Masterpieces of 19th and 20th century Orientalist art will come under the hammer in Paris at a Christies' auction on June 3.

The highlight of the auction will be paintings by classical Orientalist master Julius LeBlanc Stewart and major works by 20th century Orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle.

Julius LeBlanc Stewart arrived in Paris in 1865 and for 50 years was known as the 'Parisian from Philadelphia' who made his career and reputation by depicting the grand life in Belle Époque Paris and members of Parisian high society.

Etienne Hellman, International Director of the Orientalist Art Department at Christies', told Emirates Business: "By the mid-1880s, the only American to receive more critical attention at the Salon Exhibitions was John Singer Sargent. Stewart was admitted to the L'Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in the class of the world famous Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and it was thanks to his master that Stewart discovered Egypt during a trip there they took together.

"One of the paintings that will go under the hammer is The Garden. Dated 1881, The Garden was painted during Stewart's second trip to Egypt as a gift for the baron Alphonse Delort de Gléon, a famous engineer who lived in Egypt for 20 years where he worked on the urban planning of Cairo. It was Jean-Léon Gérôme, who had introduced them.

"The Orientalist subjects produced from these two trips are extremely rare and sought after as Stewart had painted them on site. In The Garden, Stewart transposes one of his favourite themes, that of modern feminine beauty and elegance, into a wonderfully aesthetic Egyptian context."

In the painting, a beautiful woman is set against a traditional white architectural background, and her dark robe is contrasted by oranges and bamboo shoots on the scene. This oil on canvas is expected to fetch about Dh1 million.

The Paris auction also boasts major works by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, a crucial figure in the modern transformation of the Orientalist tradition.

According to Hellman: "The paintings going under the hammer include the masterpiece The Terrasses of Tazouda – a sublime example of his work during the 1940s. It is one of the largest known paintings and is a testimony to his life-long interest in these famous Kasbahs of the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. The painter was fascinated by these villages and their almost abstract architecture and they become one of the main themes of his oeuvre.

"Majorelle's profound interest in Morocco, where he first travelled in 1917 and then settled permanently, is also witnessed in The Snake Charmers. In this work, the artist focuses on one of the traditional entertainers that he would have witnessed on the main square of Jamaa El Fna in Marrakech. In fact, these two snake charmers reappear in the famous wall paintings that Majorelle created for the City Hall of Casablanca.

"From the Kasbahs to the inhabitants of Marrakech, Majorelle was also fascinated by the beautiful women from the Sous or Draa valleys in Southern Morocco and originally from Niger, that he encountered during his travels. He spent four years painting these subjects, setting his beautiful models in gardens or reclining on beds.

"In the painting titled In the Banana Grove in particular, the figure's position – the elongated legs and profile view – is clearly influenced by Ancient Egyptian low relief sculpture."

While the The Terrasses of Tazouda and In the Banana Grove are expected to go for around Dh1.7 million to Dh3 million. The Snake Charmer is expected to fetch around Dh1.6 million.

The auction will also include modern art from the Arab and Iranian world and feature figurative works by Hussein Madi and Salah Taher and calligraphic paintings by Hossein Zenderoudi and Faramarz Pilaram among others.