Along with Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Edwin Lord Weeks is one of the best known American Orientalists painters. Weeks' parents were wealthy merchants from Boston who supported their son's great interest in travel and painting. In 1871 he travelled to Egypt, the Holy Land and Syria; most of his surviving work from this visit is in his extensive sketchbooks and photographs which overflow with his detailed observations of the architecture, costumes and lives of the people he met.
In 1874 Weeks journeyed to Paris intent on joining the studio of Jean-Leon Gérôme. However whilst waiting for his application to be accepted he started to study under Léon Bonnat, who instilled in his pupil the need for absolute realism and a love of colour. Weeks' experimental use of brilliant colours and daring brushwork owes a debt to Bonnat's teacher, the Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal. The early enthusiasm that Weeks showed for painting in Spain and Morocco was consistant with Fortuny's example. Priding himself on his use of colour, he describes himself as a 'colourist' rather than as an 'Orientalist', choosing to define his work in terms of its artistic treatment rather than its subject matter.
Weeks' reputation as a painter grew as he embarked on several daring trips to North Africa, particularly Morocco. In 1878 he travelled there with his wife and his friend the Scottish artist Robert Gavin. They encountered famine in the area but managed to ingratiate themselves by distributing some of their supplies, thereby securing local models for Weeks' work. The artist wrote to his friend Alexander S. Towmbly 'There are magnificent types here, grand looking old men...Arab girls with faces like African madonnas and such lustrous eyes; strange types from far off provinces such as Gerome has never rendered'. This productive journey marked the beginning of Week's maturity as an artist.
In 1880 Weeks exhibited two of his Moroccan subjects at the Paris Salon, both of which were sold soon after it opened. The present work, painted in the same year, depicts a Girl in a Moorish Courtyard, an enclosed scene, which was a rare composition for the artist. Weeks invites us to glimpse a private couryard where a girl tends her young gazelles, the soft light falling gently on her elaborate dress, richly embroidered with coloured silks. The architecture is faithfully rendered by Weeks, who was an enthusiatic photographer, and wished to accurately capture the carved, painted and tiled building exteriors. The overall scene is sumptuous, exotic and through the artist's use of colour, painted to thrill and excite his avid audience back home.
This painting is sold with a Letter of Authentication from Dr. Ellen K. Morris, and will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Edwin Lord Weeks.