Leon-Francois Comerre (French, 1850-1916)
Comerre, L.-F.
signed 'Lon Comerre' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 36.3/8 in. (64.3 x 92.5 cm.)

Lot Essay

The most prevalent subject portrayed in 19th century Orientalist paintings was perhaps that of the harem. The women who inhabited this private world served as subject for many of Comerre's most important paintings. The present picture is a version of Comerre's 1907 painting of the same title that was sold at Christie's, London on 21 March 1997, lot 69. In both paintings Comerre poses his model atop a lion's skin rug and brilliant red and gold brocade coverlet, and drapes her figure in diaphanous silks. The contrasting textures give the painting not only its exotic flavor but also a richness of tone that is echoed by the tiled backdrop of the wall behind her.

Convincing in every detail, Haifa gives the impression of being painted in situ but in reality Comerre had to overcome many artistic challenges in painting the scene. Since Muslim women were forbidden to model for Western artists, Comerre was forced to use European models costumed in the Arab attire. Moreover, he was not allowed to enter the harem therefore his paintings could not be based on direct observation and instead had to rely on the accounts of others. To lend verisimilitude to his paintings he filled his Paris studio with myriad props that he had collected on his sojourns to the Orient.

The port of Haifa was under the control of the Ottoman Empire at the time Comerre painted his Turkish beauty. A rich, cosmopolitan town in the 19th century, it had survived conquests by the crusaders, Napoleon, Pasha Ibrahim of Egypt and the Ottomans in 1840. As a home to Muslims, Maronites and Baha it provided an exotic platform for Comerre.

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