In 1848, while still training in the studio of François Rude, Charles Cordier attracted much attention when he exhibited a bust entitled Saïd Abdallah de la tribu du Darfour at the Salon. His choice of subject was based on a combination of childhood fantasies of voyages to far-away places and a sign of the socio-political, cultural and artistic climate. The Orientalism movement and a preoccupation with the exoticism of distant continents was pioneered by artists such as Delacroix, who already found inspiration in the vibrant colors, the rich textiles and the mystical lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Cordier, however, gave three-dimensionality to the movement following the overwhelming success of his bust-length portraits, Saïd Abdallah and Vénus africaine at London's Great Exhibition in 1851. Fueled by a fascination with polychromy, Cordier's eschewed the monotony of traditionally patinated sculpture of the Romantic movement, and in 1856, funded by the École des Beaux-Arts, he set off for Algeria to explore the multicolored marbles and onyx of its recently re-opened quarries.
Perhaps considered to be the height of his artistic maturity, the 1860s witnessed greater ambition in the scale of his works, resulting in a series of lampadaires or porte-torchères. Life-size torchères, tailored specifically for a well-to-do sect, with dramatic, folded drapery and colorfully enameled jewelry exude a certain opulence to balance what de Margerie and Papet refer to as the 'perfect union of materials.' These expressive figures harken Léon Lagranges 1865 commentary in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts that Cordier's 'lavish sculpture requires lavish surroundings' (L. de Margerie & E. Papet, New York, 2004, p. 77). Notably, Cordier's grand scale chef d'œuvre Torchère femme arabe was purchased by Empress Eugénie for the Salon Galerie at Fontainebleau.
Together with an example of its pendant figure, Femme Indienne portant une vase sur épaule gauche, the present work is a newly rediscovered cast not listed in de Margarie and Papet's catalogue raisonné. De Margarie further documents only two other examples, each paired with Femme Indienne portant un vase sur la tête; the first being polychrome bronze examples like the present lot (cat. no. 565, 566), sold Christie’s, New York, 22 October 2008, lot 60; and the second being a pair of bronze, onyx, marble and enamel versions (cat. no. 567, 568), which were cast by Parisian fondeur Lerolle Frères and later exhibited in their stand at the 1878 Paris Exposition universelle. An example of the Femme Indienne portant une vase sur épaule gauche - possibly the pendant figure to the present lot - was sold Christie's, London, 6 March 2014, lot 200.