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Frederick Arthur Bridgman (American, 1847-1928)
Frederick Arthur Bridgman (American, 1847-1928)

An Oriental Beauty

Frederick Arthur Bridgman (American, 1847-1928)
An Oriental Beauty
signed 'F. A. Bridgman.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 x 32 in. (66 x 81.3 cm.)
Anonymous sale, William Doyle Galleries, New York, 26 May 1999, lot 116.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.

Lot Essay

Some fifteen years after his first tour of North Africa, Bridgman compiled his reminiscences in Winters in Algeria (1890), a publication he both authored and illustrated. In these memoirs, the American-born artist wrote in great detail of his experiences inside the harems to which he was granted access. Taking advantage of his entry privileges, Bridgman painted the oriental beauties to which he was privy. His odalisques accordingly appear authentic in comparison to the more contrived manufactures often executed by his peers.

The present beauty exemplifies the sort of woman to which Bridgman was exposed on his harem visits. Adorned in opulent accoutrements and swathed in the finest of fabrics, she emblemizes the sense of luxury and richness that was then associated with the East. In his memoirs, Bridgman described with great precision the apparel such women wore. Noting that 'the height of fashion [was] to wear everything of the same color; for instance, yellow head kerchief bordered with gold and silk fringe, yellow ribbons to ornament the thin chemise, yellow silk bodice, pantaloons of the same color, and yellow leather slippers', he accordingly depicts his beauty as highly color-coordinated and thus, very much in vogue (F. A. Bridgman,Winters in Algeria, New York, 1890, p. 30).

The work's golden tones and lush greenery suggest a balmy and agreeable climate, a matter of importance to the artist who sympathized with eastern women for having to wear such non-insulated apparel, even on colder occasions: 'It is a strange fact that many of the natives of hot countries wear almost the same clothing winter and summer even in the severest weather, when the thermometer stands at a few degrees above the freezing-point' (Bridgman, p. 28). He fortunately relieves the present figure of any such cool condition, as she appears at ease with perhaps a hint of ennui, lulled by the sun into a state of repose.

Guaranteeing his sitter's pulchritude, Bridgman makes her readily available rather than concealed behind the traditional veil. Noting 'what a damper to one's conjectures to discover that a lustrous pair of the deepest brown eyes, softened and enhanced by khol-blackened lashes, belong to a coarse and vulgar face twenty years older than it ought to be', the artist here spares the spectator any speculative anxiety by forgoing any such cover, thereby making her attractiveness assured (Bridgman, p. 29). In her supine state, Bridgman's odalisque evokes relaxation to the point of lassitude. Pleasure and leisure are ultimately imparted. The beauty's sensuous nature and impeccable costume thus convey the elevated exoticism with which the 19th Century westerner viewed women of the East.

This work has been authenticated by Dr. Ilene Susan Fort.

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