Audio: Alfred De Dreux, Guerrier Ottoman à cheval
Alfred De Dreux (French, 1810-1860)
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Alfred De Dreux (French, 1810-1860)

Guerrier Ottoman à cheval

Alfred De Dreux (French, 1810-1860)
Guerrier Ottoman à cheval
signed 'Alfred de Dreux' (lower right)
oil on canvas
46 x 35 in. (117 x 90 cm.)
Comte de Fleury, Aide de Camp to Emperor Napoleon III, thence by descent.
Acquired by the present owner in 2007.
M. Renauld, L'univers d'Alfred de Dreux, suivi du catalogue raisonné, Arles, 2008, p. 313 of section I (illustrated full page) and p. 40, no. 162 of the catalogue raisonné (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

This monumental rendition of a mounted Ottoman warrior firing a pistol combines a profoundly Romantic vision with Alfred De Dreux's extraordinary talents as the leading equestrian artist of his generation. These are distilled into a highly charged and evocative image, which bears all the artist's hallmarks of movement, energy and colour, but draws for further emotional effect upon a multitude of artistic, literary and historical influences.

The son of an architect, De Dreux was fortunate that his uncle, the painter Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy (1789-1874), was a very close friend of Théodore Géricault. As a boy, De Dreux was painted several times by the great Romantic artist (fig. 1); visits to Géricault's studio had a lasting influence, instilling in him a love of horse painting. During the 1820s De Dreux studied with the history painter Léon Cogniet but, probably through Géricault, his early development was also much influenced by English painters such as George Stubbs, Sir Edwin Landseer, and George Morland. His first major success came at the Salon of 1831 with The White Stallion, which was clearly indebted to both Géricault and Stubbs. Noted for their liveliness of touch and vibrancy of colour, De Dreux's equestrian subjects, whether portraits, or historical and troubadour scenes, became extremely popular and the mainstay of his artistic production, and included numerous large-scale aristocratic commissions. De Dreux aligned himself with the royal family, visiting England with the king, Louis-Philippe, in 1844, and following the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, he travelled to England where he found employment doing elegant portraits of the aristocrats and their horses, very much in the manner of Landseer. After his return to Paris, he became one of the chief artists for the family and circle of the emperor, Napoléon III, whose portrait on horseback he painted in 1859.

De Dreux was thus an extraordinarily versatile artist, who absorbed a multitude of influences and adapted them to a variety of genres and to the demands of patronage, all the while refining his equestrian painting into a highly refined style all of his own. His horses are characterized by their shimmering coats, rendered in short, fine brushstrokes, which adds a sense of nervous energy and movement to the anatomical accuracy which defines their modelling. The overall impression is conveyed is a unique mixture of power and chic, rendered with a sense of bravura élan.

This is one of De Dreux's most exciting compositions. Its ultimate iconographical source is Géricault's famous Officier de Chasseurs à Cheval, a mounted officer of the Imperial Guard on a rearing horse which was shown at the Salons of 1812 and in 1814 (Paris, Louvre, fig. 2). One of several Orientalist pictures executed by the artist, this work is unusual in that rather than depicting the Nubian horsemen which typically characterize his paintings in this genre, the influence is primarily Ottoman. The painting harks back thematically to Romantic works by Eugène Delacroix inspired by the Greek War of Independence and Byronic subjects such as the Giaour and Hassan.

The costume in this painting, with its embroidery and gathered trousers, is very close to that of an Ottoman courier (fig. 3), and bears a particularly striking ressemblance to that worn in a portrait by Delacroix of the singer Paul Baroilhet in Turkish Dress (fig. 4). The setting is clearly on the fringes of a battleground, with smoke billowing from below and two caped figures fleeing in the background serving to emphasize a narrative beyond the picture plane. Meanwhile the flintlock pistol, an immensely important weapon in the warbetween Greece and Turkey, serves to suggest a relatively modern historical context.

However, the precise setting is deliberately ambiguous. The conflation of different iconographical sources suggests that De Dreux was aiming more for dramatic effect than ethnographic accuracy or any moral message. He has heightened the intensity of his colour palette compared to that of Delacroix, and the shiny black coat of the foaming steed is set off with red tassels and a gold chain which echo the clothing of the moustachioed cavalier. The stage setting is meticulous: De Dreux places the horseman in a wild rocky landsape not dissimilar to the coastline in Delacroix's painting of the Giaour, and against the kind of keyed-up brooding sky that he turned to often in order to heighten the emotional charge of his paintings; and despite the evening setting suggested by the sky in the background, the rider and his horse are dramatically lit from the front. The whole composition is structured to stress the monumentality of the subject: the low viewing angle leads the eye upwards towards the central focus point formed by the heads of the horse and rider, and the animal is thrust obliquely out of the picture plane to better stress its tense and arched features.

In this bravura painting, De Dreux cleverly used the visual cues rooted in the art of his predecessors but subtly updated them to reflect the fashions and tastes of his time. Although adhering to the same principles of drama, colour and anatomical accuracy which underpin the work of artists such as Delacroix and Géricault, he replaced pathos with a sense of verve and mise en scene which, combined, result in an equestrian swagger portrait for the modern age.

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