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The Orientalist Sale at Sotheby's to be Led by Osman Hamdy Bey's A Lady of Constantinople
John Frederick Lewis, Greeting in the Desert, Egypt (Selamat Teiyibin). 1855. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Hot on the heels of The Orientalist Sale at Sotheby’s New York in April - which realised $8.7 million and saw Jean- Léon Gérôme’s Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul sell for $1.9 million - Sotheby’s London is now delighted to announce that it will present an impressive range of Turkish, North African and Middle East-inspired works in its Orientalist Sale on Friday, May 30th, 2008. The sale will present works by many of the leading names in the field, including Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Henri ousseau (1875-1933), Théodore Chassériau (1819-56), Rudolf Ernst (1854-1904) and John Frederick Lewis (1805-76), all of whom were inspired by the khans, souks and bazaars of North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey in the 19th century. The 90 or so works - which include both paintings and sculpture - have a collective pre-sale estimate of £6.2-8.6 million.

The cornerstone of the sale will be a monumental masterpiece by the pre-eminent Turkish artist Osman Hamdy Bey (1842-1910), entitled A Lady of Constantinople, which is estimated at £3-4 million. As a bureaucrat, archaeologist, museum director, architect, poet, writer and musician – as well as one of the most successful practitioners of Orientalism – Hamdy Bey dominated Turkish cultural life during the second half of the 19th century. His paintings rarely appear at auction and of those that have appeared, the present example certainly ranks as the most significant to date. The monumental piece is also arguably one of the most important works from the Orientalist genre ever to come to the market and it could set a new auction record for a work of this type.

As the first Turkish painter to adopt the Western style of painting, Hamdy Bey’s work shows a fusion of Eastern and Western influences, both stylistically and in subject matter. This synthesis is highly apparent in A Lady of Constantinople, where the artist depicts an academically rendered brunette wearing a costume that reflects both Turkish values and the latest Parisian fashions.

After Empress Eugenie’s visit to Constantinople in 1869, women’s costume in the city changed dramatically. This was a development which Hamdy Bey successfully captured in his work and particularly in this picture, which dates from 1881. The artist’s elegant and alluring images of Turkish women represent their real-life indoor and outdoor dress in a spectacularly beautiful fashion. Hamdy Bey’s pictures were not merely picturesque records of fact but profound political documents, which examined changing trends and focused on the physical and intellectual liberties that women enjoyed.

Another star of the sale will be John Frederick Lewis’ Greeting in the Desert, Egypt (Selamat Teiyibin), which depicts a meeting between two Bedouin men who have halted their camel caravans in the vast expanse of Egypt’s Sinai desert. The two men are distinguished from one another by their headdresses and robes and it has been suggested that the differences may define respectively the Arab of the city and the Arab of the desert. Unlike many artists who travelled in the Middle East and sought to impress their audiences with a panoramic view of all they surveyed, British-born Lewis chose to focus on a small range of subjects and to investigate them with a remarkable intensity of detail and vision.

This highly important work by Lewis - executed in 1855 - can be regarded as both a prophesy and a précis; on the one hand it represents the earliest example of the artist’s practice of replicating his favourite subjects in various media and signals his interest in pursuing a career as an oil painter rather than a watercolourist, while on the other hand the exquisite detail, compelling colour and the desert landscape had already become some of his most celebrated hallmarks. The work of Lewis remains a constant source of fascination for scholars and collectors alike, and this piece is estimated at £500,000-700,000.

The Hungarian artist, Arthur von Ferraris (1856-1936), is represented by an oil on panel entitled The Learned Man of Cairo, showing a seated man reading. The allure of the East truly captivated Ferraris’ imagination and indeed his choice of subject matters suggest that he frequently visited Egypt, Turkey and North Africa. The Learned Man of Cairo exemplifies the artist’s masterful rendering of exacting photographic detail, and he captures every crease in the fabrics, every crack in the wall tiles, the vivid colours and textures and the powerful diffused light. The exquisite painting - estimated at £250,000-350,000 - has a quiet, spiritual and meditative atmosphere. It comes to the market after having spent more than 65 years out of the public eye as part of a private family collection.

Of the two works in the sale by the Austrian artist Rudolf Ernst, the most valuable is entitled Romantic Interlude (illustrated left). Ernst’s fascination with Islamic culture was spurred by his regular journeys to Spain and North Africa in the early 1880s, and to Turkey and Egypt in the 1890s. His paintings reflect the breadth of his knowledge of Eastern culture. Like many of the artist’s best works, a Romantic Interlude represents an idealised, imaginary Orient, although its component elements have been minutely observed and are based on sketches made in the field or on props brought back from travels. The painting, which is infused with the local colours of the Orient, is expected to bring £200,000-300,000. It is being sold on behalf of a private US collector.

Three Italian works will be further notable highlights of the sale. Hermann Corrodi’s An Arab Encampment a Sunset is estimated at £120,000-180,000; and two works by Fausto Zonaro, one entitled On the Shore of the Bosphorus, the other entitled The Tophane Fountain and Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque, Istanbul are both expected to fetch £40,000-60,000. Zonaro was one of the last of an illustrious group of painters at the Turkish Court that had previously included both Titian and Rubens. When Zonaro first arrived in Istanbul he could not find words to describe the city’s beauty and he soon emerged as one of the most important 19th century Western artists in the city. He continued to paint for the Turkish palaces for 20 years and left behind an irreplaceable record on canvas of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. A large number of these paintings still hang in many of Turkey’s national palaces today.

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