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A Bashi-Bazouk Chieftan

A Bashi-Bazouk Chieftan
signed 'J.L. GEROME' (upper left)
oil on canvas
23 5⁄8 x 28 7⁄8 in. (60 x 73.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1880-82.
Private Collection, New York.
Anonymous sale; Parke-Bernet, New York, 12 January 1955, lot 40 as The Harem Guard.
Possibly, with Schweitzer Gallery, New York, between 1960 and 1975.
Andrew Sordoni, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Andrew Sordoni III, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and by descent until 1981.
with The Fine Art Society, London, 1983, where purchased by
Private Collector, United Kingdom, where purchased by
Private Collection, USA, by a private treaty in 2003 as Un Chef Bachi-Bouzouk (A Bashi-Bazouk Chieftan).
Possibly, Catalogue de Paris, 1883.
Possibly, F.F. Hering, The Life and Works of Jean- Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 242 (as Arnaut Chief).
Dayton Art Institute, Jean- Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Dayton, OH, 1972, p. 58, illustrated p. 59, (as Arnaut Smoking and incorrectly dated ca. 1865).
G. M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 1986, p. 248, no. 304, illustrated p. 109 & p. 249, (as whereabouts unknown).
G. M. Ackerman, Jean Léon Gérôme, His Life, His Work, Paris, 1997, p. 114, illustrated p. 114.
G. M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme: Monographie Révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, pp. 119, 304-305, no. 304, illustrated.
L. Rama, Les Albanais de Léon Gérôme / Shqiptarët e Léon Gérôme, Albania, 2016.
The Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme from the Shafik Gabr Collection, 2018, p. 25, illustrated.
Possibly, Paris, Galerie George Petit, Exposition internationale de la peinture, organisée par un groupe d’artistes, première année, 1882, no. 14, as Bachi-Bouzouck.
Dayton, Ohio, The Dayton Art Institute; Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Art; and Baltimore, Maryland, Walters Art Gallery, Jean Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), 1972-3, no. 17, as Arnaut Smoking (incorrectly dated ca. 1865).
Washington, D.C., Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 19th Century Orientalist Paintings..., 8-30 November 2007, no. 2, as An Albanian Smoking (also known as A Bashi-Bazouk Chieftain).
Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gérôme and the Lure of the Orient, 2014, as An Albanian Smoking.

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Alastair Plumb
Alastair Plumb Specialist, Head of Sale, European Art

Lot Essay

Considered the greatest and most knowledgeable Orientalist painter of the nineteenth century, Jean-Léon Gérôme regularly created series of works that examined and perfected a single theme. Among the most memorable of these artistic investigations was his documentation of the colourful figure of the Arnaut, or Albanian soldier, silhouetted against an austere backdrop and engaging in a subdued or non-combatant act. In the present work, painted at the height of Gérôme’s long and prolific career, the artist demonstrates his unique ability to combine the fields of ethnography, costume study, and penetrating portraiture – all while offering a compelling example of his inimitable, and unexpectedly personal, Orientalist style.

Gérôme’s interest in recording the different ethnicities within the Ottoman Empire was sparked even before his Middle Eastern travels had formally begun. In 1855, he had exhibited Recreation in a Russian Camp – Memory of Moldavia (Private Collection) and The Age of Augustus (c. 1852-4, Musée de Picardie, Amiens) at the Exposition Universelle in Paris to considerable acclaim. The latter was an allegorical depiction of the world at peace under the Roman Emperor, a complex and monumental composition which featured an encyclopedic array of figures and costumes. In preparation for this work, Gérôme set off towards Russia in February 1853, in search of ethnic models. He was forced to take a detour along the Danube due to the Crimean War, and found himself at the port of Galatz in Romania, awaiting a boat to the Black Sea. Irritated by the delay, Gérôme occupied his time by sketching at a nearby Russian military camp. His drawings would become the inspiration for Recreation, and would introduce him to the diversity of the world East of France.

In 1855, Gérôme ventured further afield, making his first trip to Egypt. Among his traveling companions was the professional sculptor and amateur draughtsman and photographer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), best known for designing America’s Statue of Liberty. Both Bartholdi and Gérôme sketched throughout their journey, often depicting the same subjects at the same time, in pencil and in ink. Among their many drawings was a series of single-figure studies of male and female Egyptian fellaheen, or peasants, and a handful of loosely drawn portraits of the Black and Arab dragomen (translators), guides, attendants, and military or administrative personages who accompanied or received their group. These were inscribed by the respective artist with the sitter’s name, title, and/or with the location and date of the portrait, sometimes in Arabic as well as in their native French. At least one of the models was transposed into a later oil painting by Gérôme, being slightly adapted for the role.

By 1857, the public’s appreciation of Gérôme’s talent for figurative realism was at an all-time high. The noted critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) praised the artist for his 'ethnographic veracity', and suggested that his paintings should be utilized by scholars: 'M. Serres, the anthropologist would be able to consult with absolute certainty these specimens of unrecorded race', ('Salon de 1857 IV', l’Artiste, 5 July1857, p. 246). So too, Gautier continued, Gérôme should be commended for fulfilling contemporaries’ passion for precise and reliable information about all of humankind: 'M. Gérôme satisfies one of the most demanding instincts of the age: the desire which people have to know more about each other than that which is revealed in imaginary portraits. He has everything which is needed in order to fulfill this important mission' (op. cit.).

In America, the artist was held in equally high regard. In 1873, a critic observed that, '[Gérôme] never paints a picture without the most patient and exhaustive preliminary studies of every matter connected with his subject. In the accessories of costume, furniture, etc. it is invariably his aim to attain the utmost possible exactness. It is this trait in which some declare an excess, that has caused him to be spoken of as a ‘scientific picture maker’' (J. F. B., 'Gerome, the Painter', The California Art Gallery, 1-4, 1873, pp. 51-2).

Gérôme’s ethnographic project was confirmed and amplified during the course of his later travels. In the cosmopolitan setting of Cairo, a city he returned to on numerous occasions until the 1880s, Gérôme set his sights on the Arnauts, descendants of the Albanian soldiers brought to Egypt by the Pasha Muhammad ‘Ali (c. 1769-1849, r. 1805-48), and on the Ottoman irregular mercenaries known colloquially as bashi-bazouks (literally 'damaged head', meaning leaderless or without discipline). These military subjects were the remnants of a force that Muhammad ‘Ali had decimated years before, in an effort to consolidate his power. Paul Lenoir (1843-1881), who accompanied Gérôme on two of his mentor’s tours of Egypt (in 1868 and 1881, when he died in Cairo), described these men in his journal in abundant and memorable detail:

Their costumes artistically open at the breast, their arms de luxe as brilliant as inoffensive, their proud and disdainful attitudes, their least gestures, everything about them seems to have been most carefully studied. Nothing, however, is more natural than these interminable moustaches à la grecque, which cut their visages in two like the two enormous horns of the buffalo, and which form the most appropriate ornament of these energetic faces, bronzed in the sun. The moustache, which has nothing Arab in its principle, is with the soldier of Cairo a sign of Albanese origin . . . It was an innovation in a land in which the beard is held in the highest esteem, and where the respect which is due to a man is measured by the length of this hirsute ornament. Soldier, en amateur, however, he acquits himself of his role with care; and he has become the indispensable furniture of the door of a mosque or of the entrance to a palace. He is like the “Swiss,” [Swiss guards outside of the Vatican] the chasseur of our ancestors, but having instead of the halbert about ten or a dozen weapons, sabers and pistols, artistically intercrossed in the compartments of a vast girdle of red leather, which gives him the aspect of one of the show-windows of the Divisme on the boulevard Haussmann. (quoted in “Arnaut of Cairo,” in Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], Gérôme, A Collection of the Works of J.-L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, New York, 1881-83, n.p; adapted from Paul Lenoir, The Fayoum, or Artists in Egypt, London, 1873, pp. 27–9 [French ed., Le Fayoum, le Sinaï et Pétra, Paris, 1872]).

And again,

Assuredly they [the Arnauts] are there [in Cairo] from love of ornamentation and to please us painters, for, studying this group of soldiers decked out in brilliant costumes, one is tempted to question their strategic utility as regards the security of the city. While awaiting a new conquest of Egypt by no matter whom, these decorative soldiers, these sentinels of comic opera, have no other orders than to stop photographers whom they would honor with their confidence. (quoted in Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Works of Jean- Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 120; adapted from Lenoir, op. cit.).

The powerlessness of these once ferocious figures, described so vividly by Lenoir, was not lost upon Gérôme. In several of his pictures, weapons are hung on walls as decorative ornaments, often mimicking the postures of the subjects themselves, who are shown in moments of unpreparedness or even drugged relaxation. In this image, however, and despite the Arnaut’s implied role as a piece of 'indispensable furniture' in the room, Gérôme seems to walk a finer line between respectfulness and mockery: the importance and station of the figure is suggested by his richly colored green and gold turban, and by the conspicuous display of guns and daggers at his side. The voluminous frills of his distinctive skirt (the pleated fustanelle), moreover, seemingly sculptured out of sunlight and shadow, and his bare feet and casual pose – a state of relaxation underscored by the presence of a hookah or smoking pipe - cannot disguise or distract from the man’s strong musculature, nor his arrogant stare outward, which is surely more calculating than glassy-eyed.

The remarkable precision of Gérôme’s depiction suggests first-hand knowledge, but it also reveals the vast library of resources the artist had compiled by the time of its creation, between 1880 and 1882. The Arnaut skirt, for example, may be the earliest use of a new property in Gérôme’s large costume collection; from the mid 1860s the artist had painted such attire, but the first skirt he owned and used for his pictures was far less ample than this. (The tight-sleeved pink satin jacket too was a favourite souvenir and studio prop.) Gérôme’s large photographic collection was also evidently in play: the Musée d’Orsay houses several of the artist’s personal photographs of a model in Arnaut costume, adopting various poses in the courtyard of a house. Some of these may have been taken by Gérôme’s brother-in-law and traveling companion in 1868, Albert Goupil (1840-1884), who went on to amass an extraordinary collection of Islamic artifacts that Gérôme took every opportunity to put to use.

The mustachioed figure in this particular work was a favourite of Gérôme’s as well. His regular appearance within the artist’s oeuvre leaves questions about his identity, and about precedents for such dedicated Arnaut portrait studies in Orientalist art as a whole. The most famous practitioner of this specific theme was Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), whose Arnaut figure studies became a vivid part of the nineteenth-century imagination – and, perhaps, an inspiration for Gérôme. (The influence of other artists may appear elsewhere in this work, notably in the open window with mashrabiyyah, or turned wood, bars. For more on this motif - used repeatedly by Gérôme - see E.M. Weeks, Cultures Crossed: John Frederick Lewis and the Art of Orientalism, New Haven and London, 2014, Chapter 4, passim.)

The ethnographic and well-researched components of Gérôme’s subjects, coupled with his detailed, highly polished style, held a particular appeal for contemporary collectors well beyond his native France. Indeed, though the early provenance of this painting is still being sorted out, it is certain that it quickly travelled from Paris to America’s East Coast. (For more on the specific reasons for Gérôme’s popularity in America, see E.M. Weeks, “An Enduring Renaissance: Collecting Gérôme in America,” Gérôme, exh. cat., Gallery 19c, New York, 2017, pp. 6-21.) In 1859, Gérôme signed a contract with the French publisher and art dealer Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893). Goupil’s calculated marketing of Gérôme’s works, through both the sale of originals and affordable, mass-produced reproductions, guaranteed their widespread distribution, and the growth of his international success. By 1863, the same year that the artist married into the Goupil family and just four years after formalising his contract with the firm, Gérôme earned the distinction of being Goupil’s most reproduced artist and, along with Meissonier (1815-1891), Cabanel (1823-1889), and Bouguereau (1825-1905), the most familiar to a vast network of audiences around the world.

The appearance of this picture in one of two prestigious New York collections by the early 1880s had important precedents as well. Gérôme’s name first appeared in that city on 19 December 1855, in the art journal The Crayon. (The artist’s thirty-foot wide, state-commissioned The Age of Augustus, mentioned above, had apparently proved too extravagant a work to ignore.) A little more than two years later, Gérôme’s La Prière chez un chef Arnaute (Prayer in the House of the Arnaut Chief) (1857, Private Collection) arrived in New York City, offering audiences a sample of the many Arnaut subjects yet to come. (Accompanying the work was the artist’s Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert [1857, Private Collection], a picture also featuring Arnaut troops and exhibited in the 1857 Salon.) By 1880, 53 paintings by Gérôme had been brought to the city by Goupil & Co. and sold to American clients, with 34 being Orientalist in subject; by the time of Gérôme’s death in 1904, the firm counted 144 paintings - almost one-quarter of the artist’s output - as being in American hands (DeCourcy E. McIntosh, 'Goupil and the American Triumph of Jean-Léon Gérôme', Gérôme and Goupil: Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, p. 34). In 1857, Michael Knoedler (1823-1878) took over Goupil & Co., after managing the New York branch for two years; he retained the Goupil name (it was now legally “Goupil & Co., M. Knoedler Successor”) and the two names were synonymous in America throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. Knoedler’s commitment to continuing to promote and sell works by contemporary French artists, including those by Gérôme, is evident in the stock books for the firm; it was Knoedler, in fact, who may have handled this work in 1882.

This catalogue entry was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D. This picture will be included in Dr. Weeks’s revision of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, currently in progress.

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