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Orientalism: A Selection of Prints and Drawings

April 21 – September 23, 2013
East Building, Study Center Library

Eugène Delacroix, Royal Tiger (Tigre Royal), 1829, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 1978.16.2

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

This one-room installation of nineteenth-century Orientalist works on paper includes battle scenes, wild animals, and figure studies rooted in romanticism. Features include early, first-hand sketches of the Near East, such as the colorful costume study of A Turk by Jules-Robert Auguste (1789–1850), as well as more stylized lithographs like the Tiger Hunt by Charles Etienne Pierre Motte (1785–1836) and the Chief of the Mamelukes on Horseback by Antoine-Jean Gros (1771–1835). Works by later nineteenth-century artists are also included, such as The Woman in the “Song of Songs,” a figure study in soft black chalk on blue paper by Alexandre Bida (1823–1895), and the exquisitely detailed pair of ink drawings by Rodolphe Bresdin (1822–1885) of an Oriental Horsewoman and Horseman in a Desolate Mountain Landscape.

Although the European fascination with North Africa and the Near East began long before, Orientalism was essentially a nineteenth-century phenomenon. Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 sparked a taste for Egyptian motifs in French art and architecture. Subsequent military campaigns, such as the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832) and the French conquest of Algeria (1830–1847), further exposed the French to Near Eastern dress and weaponry, Islamic architecture, intimate interior spaces, desolate landscapes, and fearsome animals—subjects that were popularized by artists throughout Europe and America. Coincidentally, the development of lithography at the end of the eighteenth century revolutionized printmaking. The process was quickly embraced by romantic artists, as it offered virtually unlimited graphic freedom.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Sponsor: The exhibition is made possible by The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art.