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Gustave-Clarence-Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824-1888)
Gustave-Clarence-Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824-1888)

La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger

Gustave-Clarence-Rodolphe Boulanger (French, 1824-1888)
La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger
signed and dated 'G. Boulanger 1877' (lower left)
oil on canvas
33 x 45 in. (83.8 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1877
Estate of Mary Dolly Schuchard.
Anonymous sale, William Doyle Galleries, New York, 6 November 1997, lot 40 (as Arabian Harem).
Private Collection, USA.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 April 2003, lot 46 (as Le harem du palais).
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Lot Essay

La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger is undoubtedly Gustave Boulanger's masterpiece and one of his most mature, elaborate and detailed compositions. However, no records of its commission have been found, and scarce records of its history are available. In fact, during the last decade, La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger has resurfaced at auction with different titles, yet never with the proper identification of the landmark building depicted.

Boulanger, a great enthusiast of the Middle East, traveled to the region for the first time in 1845, and executed numerous detailed sketches of the places he visited. The courtyard of the palace in the present work is arguably the most famous landmark in the coastal city of Algiers in Algeria. The history of the palace of Dar Khdaouedj El Amia suggests that around the time of Boulanger's visit to the French Colony of Algeria the building would have been open to the public or to privately arranged visits, especially to French travelers.

The magnificent palace of Dar Khdaouedj El Amia (House of the Blind) (fig. 1) is located on the Rue du Divan in the lower Casbah neighborhood near the Souk El Djemaa (Friday Market). The building is an ancient property believed to be from the 16th Century belonging to Yahya Reis, the famed Ottoman Naval officer under admiral Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha. In 1789, Hassan El Khaznadji, the treasurer of the Dey in Algeria acquired the building from Michel Cohen Bacri, an affluent Jewish merchant originally from Livorno in Tuscany. According to legend, El Khaznadji re-named the palace after his blind daughter Khdaouedj, who lost her eyesight while admiring her famed beauty in the mirror. Following the passing of Lalla Khdaouedj the palace was bequeathed to her heirs N'fissa and Omar and they retained ownership until 1830. At the time of the French colonial occupation the building was converted into the first City Hall of Algiers. Following a century of public service in different capacities, the palace was declared home to le Musée des Arts Populaires (Museum of the Popular Arts), in 1961.

In La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger Boulanger has recreated an intimate, yet opulent gathering around the reflecting pool in the center of the grand courtyard, which is decorated with various carpets, damask cushions and a traditional mother-of-pearl coffee table. The ladies of the household are all lounging comfortably in this intimate and private chamber of their home, dressed in luxurious colors and expensive fabrics such as silk and lace, and the men smoke tobacco from a tchoubuk and drink Turkish coffee, barefoot with their folded red berbers placed on the ground behind them. This authentic large family scene is completed by a younger member carelessly dragging her doll across the courtyard while a Nubian servant is holding a newborn in her arms in the background.

Boulanger's painstakingly precise attention to detail is apparent in close comparisons of his depiction of the architecture with contemporary photographs of the building. The arabesque columns, the wooden balustrade of the colonnade floor and the hexagonal floor tiles of the courtyard are all historically accurate. Like his contemporaries Jean-Léon Gérôme and Charles Bargue, Gustave Clarence Boulanger is an exceptional observer and an outstanding draughtsman. His superior technique and execution mark him as one of the most important French Orientalist painters of the late 19th Century.

Scenes depicting palace courtyards in Algeria and Morocco with lounging men, and singing and dancing women were a favorite of many Orientalist artists. Frederick Arthur Bridgman (fig. 2), Jan-Baptist Huysmans (fig. 3), and Antonio Maria Fabres y Costa (fig. 4) are other influential Orientalists to name a few who have also used these settings in their paintings. Such compositions were extremely popular for they allowed artists to represent the exotic luxuries of urban life in North Africa through splendid objects and exquisite architecture.

(fig. 1) Contemporary photograph of the courtyard of Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger, Algeria.

(fig. 2) Frederick Arthur Bridgman, The Courtyard, 1873, photo courtesy of Mathaf Gallery, London.

(fig. 3) Jan Baptist-Huysmans, Saltimbanques, 18883, photo courtesy of Mathaf Gallery, London.

(fig. 4) Antonio Maria Fabres y Costa, Cour mauresque, photo courtesy of Mathaf Gallery, London.

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