Mariano Fortuny Marsal (Spanish, 1838-1874)
Mariano Fortuny Marsal (Spanish, 1838-1874)

Arab Fantasia

Mariano Fortuny Marsal (Spanish, 1838-1874)
Arab Fantasia
signed, inscribed and dated 'Fortuny/Roma 1866' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 24½ in. (50.8 x 62.2 cm.)
Walther Fol, Rome (acquired directly from the artist).
William H. Vanderbilt, New York.
His sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 18 April 1945, lot 43.
Acquired at the above sale by Flora Whitney Miller, New York.
Her sale, Sotheby's, New York, 21 May 1987, lot 75.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 22 June 2000, lot 13.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Yriarte, 'Fortuny' in L'Art. Revue hebdomadaire illustrée, Paris, 1875, p. 366.
W. Fol, 'Fortuny' in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, April 1875, p. 275.
E. Shinn (ed. E. Strahan), The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, 1879-1882, vol. III, pp. 98-99, 102, 108 (illustrated).
The Private Collection of W.H. Vanderbilt, New York, 1879, p. 14, no. 34;
W.H. Vanderbilt's Collection of Paintings, New York, 1884, no. 36. C. Gonzáles and M. Martí, Mariano Fortuny Marsal: Maestros del arte de los siglos XIX y XX, Barcelona, 1989, vol. I, pp. 234-235, pls. 82 and 82bis (illustrated); and vol. II, p. 42, no. OR-0.01.66
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1886-1903 (on loan from W.H. Vanderbilt).
Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Caixa de Pensions, Fortuny, 18 January - 12 March 1989, no. 17 (this exhibition subsequently travelled to Madrid, Sala d'Exposiciones de la Fundación La Caixa, and to Reus, Museu Comarcal).
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Fortuny, 17 October 2003 - 18 January 2004, no. 35.

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Lot Essay

Fortuny was one of the most diverse, and commercially successful artists of his day. Promoted heavily by the French dealer Goupil, Fortuny became famed for his genre subjects, which were characterised by lightness of touch, and were loosely inspired by the work of artists such as Watteau, and the bright palette of Venetian artists such as Tiepolo. He was also prized as a history and Orientalist painter, who brought the past and near East to life with a strong sense of reality and of colour that was informed by travel throughout Europe and North Africa.

This painting is one of the artist's most important Orientalist compositions, and was acquired directly from Fortuny by his friend, the Swiss collector Walther Fol. A second version, now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, was painted for Goupil, and was acquired by the American collector William Stewart (fig. 1). The differences between the two canvases lie primarily in the replacement of a bull's head for that of a lion in the second version, and in minor adjustments to the figures in the foreground.

The present scene describes a subject popular with Orientalist painters, a group of warriors dancing frenetically to the sound of their own gunfire, and conflates into a single composition disparate elements that Fortuny had witnessed on a trip to Tangiers in 1862; these include fruit sellers, a Jewish merchant (holding a vase in the left corner), sheikhs and the dancers themselves, which were superimposed onto an architectural background which was, according to Yriarte (op. cit.) observed directly from life. The practice of assembling different motifs was common among most Orientalist painters, who aimed to bring their canvases to life with a sense of almost cinematographic drama, by filling them with exotic, ethnographic details.

Fortuny's vibrant sense of colour and movement, and powerful sense of composition, which are all so distilled into this canvas, were most completely awoken after the artist's first trip to Morocco in 1860, replacing the more linear style of his early years. He responded immediately to the strong light and exotic environment, producing dazzling canvases which convey a strong sense of local colour, and are reminiscent of the turbulent Orientalist canvases of Eugène Delacroix. The present canvas exhibits all these tendencies, with a particularly strong emphasis on shading, colour and movement. The contrast between the frieze-like figures, painted largely in different shades of white, and the swirling, colourful dancers in the foreground, is also particularly effective.

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