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The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painters Opens at Tate Britain
Richard Dadd, The Flight out of Egypt 1849-50. Tate.

LONDON.- The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, opening at Tate Britain on 4 June, is the first exhibition to survey the history of British painters’ representations of the Middle East from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. It will explore the great range of artistic responses to the peoples, cities and landscapes of the regions lying just across the Mediterranean from Europe.

The exhibition will reveal the wealth of Orientalist painting which followed the arrival of steam travel in the nineteenth century. Art and tourism flourished in places that were now relatively easy to reach by boat, and artists were drawn to visit and paint the areas they explored including Cairo, Jerusalem and Istanbul (Constantinople), often travelling via Spain and Morocco, or through Greece and the Balkans. The exhibition will examine how British painters sought to convince their audiences of the authenticity of their images, often by using intensely detailed compositions. It will also show how deriving drama and romance from the Orient was central to their work. In images of the harem and of the Holy Land, in particular, these two impulses were often in fascinating tension, leaving the viewer to question the accuracy of the subjects they were depicting.

Bringing together over 110 pictures and watercolours from collections around the world, The Lure of the East will include major works by celebrated British painters such as Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt, Richard Dadd, Lord Leighton and John Frederick Lewis. It will also bring together many important and rarely seen works from private collections. The exhibition will look at the long tradition of British sitters being portrayed in different varieties of Oriental dress, and its themes will include landscapes, cityscapes, genre scenes, the harem and the Holy City.

Highlights will include Gavin Hamilton’s huge canvas James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra 1758 (National Gallery of Scotland), the portraits of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips 1814 (Government Art Collection) and Lawrence of Arabia by Augustus John 1919 (Tate), William Allan’s Slave Market, Constantinople 1838 (National Gallery of Scotland), John Frederick Lewis’s The Seraff – A Doubtful Coin 1869 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery), David Roberts’s panoramic view of the ancient city of Baalbec in Lebanon 1861 (Sharjah Art Museum), Richard Dadd’s Flight out of Egypt 1849/50 (Tate) and John Frederick Lewis’s Hhareem Life, Constantinople 1857 (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne).

The exhibition will also inevitably engage with ongoing debates around the concept of ‘Orientalism’ - the representation of the East in Western arts and literature – and its political contexts.

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