Edwin Lord Weeks (Boston 1849-1903 Paris)
The Nautch
signed 'E. L. WEEKS' and with artist's stamp (lower left)
oil on canvas
39½ x 50 in. (100.5 x 127 cm.)
Private collection, Boston, circa 1900, thence by descent.
Anonymous sale; Robert C. Eldred Auctioneers, East Dennis, Massachusetts, 26 July 1996, lot 237.
The Sultan of Brunei.
Private collection, London.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan in the 1950s.

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Lot Essay

Weeks can be considered one of the most famous and accomplished American Orientalist painters of the 19th Century. Travelling from an early age away from his hometown of Boston to Florida and South America, Weeks revealed his gift as an artist with an adventurous spirit which would define his career.

From 1870 he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He then returned briefly to America, before travelling to Morocco, where he was to remain for a number of years.

His work was well received by critics in the Parisian Salon and various other exhibitions, so that in 1882 the Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel committed himself to Weeks. This was the same year that Weeks made his first of several voyages to India. He returned again in 1886 and 1892.

India held a particular fascination for Weeks. Although a fast developing country with the advantages of modernized transport, India maintained its distinct cultural history, which afforded Weeks extraordinary new experiences. His presence was something of a novelty and Weeks often found himself surrounded by interested locals as he worked on his sketches. These sketches, which document the reality of his exotic surroundings, form the foundation for his studio-executed paintings and allowed him to create works of unrivalled precision while capturing the essence of traditional Indian activities.

The present work depicts a Nautch dancer, performing an art form that rose to prominence in the later period of the Moghul Empire and subsequently gained popularity in many palaces even rising to the upper echelons of the British Raj. Particularly luminous, this work glows with brilliant colour, wonderful architectural detail and an extraordinary realism and drama. As a Bostonian reporter wrote when Weeks died in November 1903:

'Of all the Boston-born painters who have made a name for themselves in the European world of art, there is none whose reputation has been greater, whose honors have been more numerous, or whose work has been better known and esteemed... The pageantry of Indian life appealed powerfully to the artist, and he rendered it with all his inherent splendor and gorgeousness' (Quoted in U.W. Hiesinger, 'Edwin Lord Weeks, painter and explorer', The Magazine Antiques, November 2002.)

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Edwin Lord Weeks by Ellen K. Morris.

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