Edwin Lord Weeks' third expedition to India, beginning in the fall of 1892, involved a grueling overland caravan expedition from Turkey through Persia en route to India - a trip Weeks chronicled two years later in his book, From the Black Sea Through Persia and India. Upon his return to Paris, in 1893, Weeks soon began a series of Persian paintings, which he continued intermittently until his death only a decade later. Weeks was the only major Orientalist painter to depict Persian subjects, and these works are among his most magnetic achievements.
Painted circa 1895, the present work chronicles the point at which Weeks' caravan finally left the city of Tabreez, having been delayed there for nearly four weeks due to the illness of a companion and an epidemic of cholera in Teheran, their next destination. Although Weeks was impressed by the bazaars of Tabreez, he observed that the city 'offered but little artistic interest,' noting that 'there are no fine mosques or remarkable monuments in Tabreez save the magnificent ruin called the 'Blue Mosque,' ... and the lofty fragment of brick citadel called the 'Ark',' which is depicted in the present painting (From the Black Sea, pp. 50-52).
Traveling in Persia depicts a pair of horses and their chavadars, or handlers, that Weeks' party retained to organize the caravan from Tabreez to Teheran. The white horse and handler in the foreground relate to an illustration on page 56 of From the Black Sea, captioned 'Hadji the Chavadar and his Arab Steed' (fig. 1).
With his characteristic eye for visual detail, Weeks noted 'each of these weather-beaten old horses, with head-stall of fringed leather, straps and bridle ornamented with shells and blue beads, and his worn pack-saddle, shredded and patched with many colors, like a beggar's mantle is a wonderfully interesting study of color. Around their necks, among the many-hued tassels, or from their sides, are hung bells, and bells within bells.'
Indeed, this painting, with its painterly background and suggestively rendered foreground figures, brilliantly captures the weather-beaten character of its subjects. All the detail is there-down to the bright droplets of water from the horse's mouth-but handled with Weeks' naturalistic detail, eschewing the brittle imagery of many of his contemporaries. It is a fine example of an observed moment during his travels, executed in Weeks' characteristically picturesque style.
We are grateful to Dr. Ellen K. Morris for providing this catalogue note. This painting will be included in her forthcoming Weeks catalogue raisonné.
(fig. 1) E. L. Weeks, Hadji the Chavadar and his Arab Steed' From the Black Sea Through Persia and India,' p. 56.