• Orientalist Masterpieces Inclu auction at Christies

    Sale 7823

    Orientalist Masterpieces Including an Important Private Collection

    25 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 7

    Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824-1888)

    El Hiasseub, Conteur arabe

    Price Realised  


    Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824-1888)
    El Hiasseub, Conteur arabe
    signed and dated 'G. Boulanger.1868' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    22 x 31 in. (56 x 78.5 cm.)
    Painted in 1868.

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    El Hiasseub, Conteur arabe is an exceptional, recently rediscovered work by Gustave Rodolphe Boulanger. Frequently compared to Jean-Léon Gérôme, his friend, former roommate and fellow professor at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Boulanger may have had a less prolific career than the renowned French master but his compositions are just as detailed, refined and noteworthy.

    Born into a modest family of Creole origin, Boulanger discovered Algeria in 1845, very early in his career. He was sent there for eight months by his uncle, Constant Desbrosses, who had been his tutor since the death of his parents in 1838. This trip had a major impact on him and its influence on his work really became visible in the early 1860s, after he finished his important contribution to the decoration of the Palais Garnier, or Paris Opera House. Boulanger would return to Algeria many times after this monumental project, including with Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1872.

    El Hiasseub, Conteur arabe was painted in 1868 and exhibited in the Salon in 1869. Eminent art historians and critics, such as Edmond About, Georges Lafenestre and Paul Mantz admired it and complimented its author in their reviews. But it was probably Théophile Gautier who describes it best in his article published in L'Illustration, in June 1869: "After Ancient Greece, Mr. Gustave Boulanger travels with us in Algeria and shows us El Hiasseub, Conteur arabe, seated at the entrance of a hut and charming with his words a group of fascinated listeners. The artist excels in describing these noble and pure people who, in their burnous, look like ancient statues coming down from their pedestals. Almost every painter who travelled in Algeria has focused on the richness of the colours, neglecting the quality of the sketch. Mr. Boulanger has taken great care in reproducing the sculptural figure and the unique style of these people undistorted by civilization".

    In her study on Boulanger, Marie-Madeleine Aubrun differentiates three categories in the French Orientalist Art movement (op. cit., p. 168): 'Romantic Orientalism', led by Eugène Delacroix and Eugène Fromentin; 'Picturesque Orientalism' (Orientalisme de l'image), represented by artists like Alfred Dehodencq and Eugène Girardet; and 'Ethnological Orientalism', embodied by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave-Rodolphe Boulanger. According to her, the artists who followed the last path focus on precision and accuracy in order to elicit in the viewer a sense of the 'real' while at the same time presenting the intriguing and startling world of the Orient. The exquisitely rendered costumes, the botanical accuracy of the setting, the plants, the palm grove, the studied structure of the hut, are all a tribute to Boulanger's trips to Algeria and absolute mastery of his craft.

    El Hiasseub, conteur arabe epitomizes the truly classical Orientalist painting tradition. The detailing is astonishing. For instance, ironically, one finds an intensely studied and precise rendition of spontaneity in the undone shoelaces of the young man lying on his stomach, and in the frozen expression of distraction of the man seated on his left. Using his mastery of classical compositional techniques, Boulanger makes all the figures in the painting interact with each other while organizing them in strict geometrical groups. This work, in which the almost photographic reality of the pictorial technique contrasts so perfectly with the unfamiliar 'Oriental' subject matter, creates that peculiar fascinating effect that is characteristic of a true masterpiece of the genre.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Claudius Gerentet Collection, Paris.

    Pre-Lot Text



    E. About, 'Le Salon de 1869', in Revue des deux Mondes, June 1869, p. 750-751.
    T. Gautier, 'Le Salon de 1869', in L'Illustration, 29 May 1869.
    T. Gautier, 'Le Salon de 1869', in Le Journal Officiel, 19 June 1869.
    P. Mantz, 'Salon de 1869', in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1869, p. 11.
    M. Chaumelin, L'Art Contemporain, Paris, 1873, p. 263, 391-392.
    E. Montrosier, Les artistes modernes, Paris, 1881, no. 23.
    G. Lafesnestre, L'Art Vivant - La peinture et la sculpture aux Salons de 1868 à 1877, 1881, p. 130.
    F. Javel, Catalogue des oeuvres de Gustave Boulanger, Paris, 1889, p. 8.
    P. C. Périer, Propos d'art à l'occasion du Salon de 1869, Paris, 1889, p. 118-120.
    K. Robert, Traité pratique du modelage et de la sculpture, Paris, 1889, p. 143.
    M.-M. Aubrun, 'Gustave Boulanger, peintre éclectique', in Bulletin de la Société d'histoire de l'art français, no. 72, cat. 110, 1986, pp. 168, 197-198, illustrated p. 198.


    Paris, Salon, 1869, no. 295.