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Gyula Tornai (Hungarian, 1861-1928)
Gyula Tornai (Hungarian, 1861-1928)

Travelling musicians, Tangier

Gyula Tornai (Hungarian, 1861-1928)
Travelling musicians, Tangier
signed, inscribed and dated 'TORNAI GYULA./TANGER 1891' (lower right)
oil on canvas
46½ x 73 in. (118.1 x 185.4 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Dorotheum, Vienna, 21 March 1972, lot 125.
Acquired at the above sale by the father of the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Born in 1861 in Görgö, Gyula Tornai received his artistic education at the academies in Vienna and Munich, and in Gyula Benczúr's studio in Budapest. He exhibited in London and in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris to great acclaim, winning the bronze medal. He exhibited again at the Budapest Art Gallery in 1909 and in the National Salon in 1917. He began his career painting the genre scenes that were so popular in the last quarter of the 19th Century, but after his travels to India, China, Japan and Morocco his themes changed to depictions of the varied and exotic places and customs of those destinations. Tornai stayed in Tangier from 1890 to 1891, the year of the creation of the present lot.
The complex nature of this Orientalist composition shows the unsurpassed skill of Tornai as a painter. He found inspiration in the rich and colourful cultural pallet that Tangiers provided.
This masterpiece draws its visual impact and strength from the complex and balanced nature of the composition and a meticulously executed pictorial anecdote. The artist has made great use of the simple architectural elements to set a stage on which a scene from everyday life in Tangiers could play out. His scene is enriched by the Eastern weaponry and colourful clothing of the local populace.
The present work is of impressive size, drawing the spectators in and enveloping them in an exotic atmosphere. It exhibits all the hallmarks for which Tornai’s Orientalist works are best known. Depicting a North African street scene, it exudes a sense of informal spectatorship. The viewer has stumbled into a group of local musicians and is, like the people depicted, witnessing a local custom. Each figure is quietly absorbed by the music and the picture planes are crowded with groups of figures. The overall effect is to create a painting that is both soothing and entertaining, inviting the eye to wander across a panoply of interlinked figures, colours and textures.

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