, announced that its Orientalist sale in London on Wednesday, 18 May 2011, will be highlighted by an impressive array of works fresh to the market by seminal artists in this field. The 62 works are estimated to realise in excess of £2.5 million.
Austrian-born Rudolf Ernst is today one of the most celebrated and sought-after Orientalist painters of the nineteenth century and Sotheby's sale will include three works by the artist. Leaving the Mosque is a superbly conceived and finely observed panel, in which Ernst gives expression to his admiration for Muslim piety and Islamic architecture. Mosques and prayer became central to his paintings during his travels to the Middle East. In the present work, estimated at £200,000-300,000, Ernst displays his characteristic attention to the quiet richness and geometrical order of the architecture, the clean lines and vivid colours, all symbols of divine perfection.
A second exceptional work by Ernst is An Afternoon Show, painted long after his Middle Eastern travels were over. Ernst made no apologies for the imaginative craftsmanship that took place in his Paris studio. The present work brings together interesting vignettes and well-observed details that were probably never witnessed by the artist in one place or at one time. A brown bear dances to the beat of the gypsy's tambourine, capturing the attention of the seated men who are oblivious even to the arrival of their afternoon coffee. The building in the background, with its beautiful light and dark stone courses and exterior stairwell, is typical of Mamluk and later Ottoman architecture. The oil on panel, estimated at £80,000-120,000, combines Ernst's love of contrasting patterns and textures, with his skill as a storyteller.
The Bohemian artist Rudolf Weiss is represented with an oil on panel entitled The Arms Merchant Presenting his Wares. Weiss belonged to the highly successful school of Viennese trained Austrian and Bohemian artists, including Rudolf Ernst, who made Orientalist subjects their metier. He perfected the genre, as seen in the present work with its display of academic rigour and attention to detail. An almost luminous clarity is achieved through the use of a wood panel. It is estimated at £80,000-100,000.
The American artist Frederick Arthur Bridgman produced a series of harem paintings, and Sotheby's Orientalist sale will be led by an oil on canvas entitled In the Harem. While most Orientalist painters with a taste for this subject delighted in the voyeuristic opportunities it offered, Bridgman differed from them by using such scenarios to reveal a more domestic and family-orientated side of North African women's lives. In the Harem draws directly from the artist's travels and experiences. Here, three young North African women sit on a Berber carpet, with burning incense and the taking of tea imparting a sense of peace. The young girl who joins this group looks out directly at the viewer, as she cradles her doll. The intensely saturated colours and impasto brushstrokes show an emphasis towards a naturalistic aesthetic, with hints of impressionistic influences. Estimated at £200,000-300,000, the painting is a striking example of the artist's beloved theme.
German artist Leopold Carl Müller made nine trips to Egypt between 1874 and 1886, and his main fascination was for the country's people, their cultural mores and daily routines. The Water Carriers, estimated at £200,000-300,000, was painted in 1880 and shows a Nubian woman with a fair-skinned girl transporting their water jars with gracious ease (pictured right). Müller bestows the main figure with a proud monumentality, her height accentuated by the jug she carries on her head, and by the bent over posture of the male water carrier to her left. The painting illustrates Müller's interest in the towns and cities he visited: the dome and miniaret on the left are those of the Mosque of Ibrahim in the city of Desuk in the north-western Nile delta, which the artist had visited in 1874. The mosque dates to the era of Sultan Khalil Qalawuns (1280-90), but was extended in the fifteenth century by Sultan Qaitbey.
Three works by the German-born artist Adolf Schreyer all capture the importance of horses in nineteenth-century Middle Eastern life. The Pursuit and Riders by an Oasis, each estimated at £50,000-70,000, are both desert scenes enlivened with painterly, dynamic brushwork. The black Arabian stallion, so emblematic of the region, is vividly realised in French artist Alfred De Dreux's Cheval Noir au palmier (est. £25,000-35,000).
These Orientalist artworks will be offered for sale together with a selection of Spanish paintings. In keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, Mariano Fortuny's Arabe delante de un tapiz (Arab Before a Tapestry) pays homage to the mystery and exoticism of North Africa. Painted in Rome in 1873 at the height of his career, a year before his untimely death at the age of 36, the present work never before exhibited in public is a large and dramatic canvas that demonstrates a marriage of Moorish and Western cultures. Each component is carefully arranged for optimum theatrical effect, from the richly patterned vertical drop of the Persian Safavid carpet, to the standing Arab swathed in a white robe, who holds a Moroccan musket horizontally above his chest. To his right, Fortuny has placed a Spanish twelfth century ivory inlaid casket; to his left, a sixteenth century round hispano-moresque lustreware; above his head, a hanging mosque glass. Estimated at £150,000-250,000, Arab Before a Tapestry comes to the market from a South American private collection, and Sotheby's sale will mark its first appearance at auction.