Gustav Bauernfeind (German, 1848-1904)
Gustav Bauernfeind (German, 1848-1904)
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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Gustav Bauernfeind (German, 1848-1904)

Warden of the Mosque, Damascus

Gustav Bauernfeind (German, 1848-1904)
Warden of the Mosque, Damascus
signed, inscribed and dated 'G. Bauernfeind/ Damaskus/ München 1891' (lower left)
oil on panel
43 x 33 in. (109.2 x 83.8 cm.)
Painted in 1891.
McLean & Co., London, 1891 (commissioned from the artist by Arthur Sulley).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 28 November 1979, lot 50.
with The Fine Art Society, Ltd., London (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by a private collector in 1979.
Acquired from the above by a private treaty in 2003.
A. Carmel and H. Schmid, The Life and Work of Gustav Bauernfeind, Orientalist Painter, Stuttgart, 1990, pl. 160 (illustrated).
L. Thornton, The Orientalists, Painter-Travellers 1828-1908, Paris, 1994, p. 20 (illustrated).
P. Kühner, Gustav Bauernfeind - Gemälde und Aquarelle, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 1995, p. 218 (illustrated).
H. Schmid, ed., Gustav Bauernfeind: Die Reise nach Damascus 1888/1889, Tübingen and Basel, 1996, p. 107 (illustrated).
(Probably) London, McLean, 1891.
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Lot Essay

A distinguished edifice in Damascus is the Sinan Pasha Mosque set near the Midhat-Pasha Street. Although not a challenger to the Ummayad Mosque in its magnitude or grandiosity, the Sinan Pasha Mosque is discussed in 19th Century travel guides as the second most significant religious structure in the city. Its importance and its recognition are based on the accomplishments of its architect rather than its sheer mass.

Sinan the Architect, otherwise known as Mimar Sinan by the Turks, was born a Catholic in the early 16th Century in a village near the city of Kayseri in central Anatolia. Although he is thought to be of Greek origin, the first records of him are from his enrolment in the Janissary Corps circa 1512. This was an elite unit of the Ottoman army whose members at the time were all gathered from Christian families and converted to Islam with a primary mission to serve and protect the Sultan. During his service in the Janissary Corps, Sinan was initially taught the trade of carpentry in which he rapidly excelled and was soon promoted to military engineer, overseeing the building of fortifications, ships and bridges. In 1538 Sinan was appointed "the chief of the imperial architects to the Ottoman court and served three sultans in the course of half a century before his death in 1588. His work epitomizes the Ottoman Empire at its apogee and his artistic achievements crown the magnificence of that realm" (D. Kuban and A. Ertug, Sinan, An Architectural Genius, Bern, 1999, p. 17). Going even a step further Henry Matthews from the Washington State University School of Architecture compares Sinan with Italian architects such as Brunelleschi and Michelangelo for his equally bold experiments with domed structures and vast interior spaces. During his role as the chief imperial architect, Sinan worked on, oversaw and planned together with an army of architects that served under him approximate 400 buildings of which about 100 alone are mosques. The Sinan Pasha Mosque in Damascus is widely accepted as a structure planned by Sinan yet it is clear that a trusted student must have executed the project as the completion date of the mosque in 1590 is two years after Sinan's death.

The earliest records of Bauernfeind sketching this structure date to Friday 29 January 1889 when he noted working on its minaret from a distance. But the foundations of the present composition were laid down almost by accident on 9 April 1889 and Bauernfeind kept a detailed recording of this day in his diary. Bauernfeind left his hotel around 11am with his camera and took about 7 pictures whilst walking through the streets of Damascus. He stumbled upon an open side entry of a smaller mosque that led into its courtyard. A seated warden in a blue tunic wearing a large turban in this entrance way was engrossed in reading at which time Bauernfeind decided swiftly to make this the subject of his 8th photograph of the day. In the afternoon he returned to the same location, this time accompanied by his Muslim translator Karam, in order to draw the portal but much to their disappointment and frustration, the crowd shut the door tight upon noticing the artist's attempt to paint the mosque. Feeling bolder than usual, Karam initiated a back and forth of pushing the door open only for the crowds to shut it again, a struggle that shortly ended with a dislocated door and an extremely upset crowd. Bauernfeind was asked to have the door repaired at once and by 5pm not only was the door fixed but he also had a chance to make an initial study drawing as well as get acquainted with the warden of the mosque. From this day on Bauernfeind would spend his mornings sketching the portal at a cost of roughly 6 Piasters a day, the running rate for bribing the warden and acquiring an unofficial on-site painting permit. In the upcoming days Bauernfeind noted that there were some understanding people amongst the Muslims as complimentary comments were made about his painting. For them, the prospect of these watercolours someday reaching Paris was particularly exciting, because the inhabitants of Damascus strongly believed that no other city possessed splendour and magnificence like their own.

In the catalogue for the Annual Winter Exhibition, McLean published an extract from a letter by Bauernfeind describing his finished oil titled Warden of the Mosque. "Between the various stalls of a covered bazaar street whose mythical twilight is more favourable for the seller than the buyer, there opens out a small side entrance of a mosque, inviting the faithful to its luminous court and playing fountain. The muezzin has called the hour of prayer, and some people followed the call. They put their shoes, weapons, and other burdens under the care of the warden. The red top-boots and easy sandals which are worn in the interior of Arabia as well as the long guns and divers arms (yataghan, carbine, etc.), show us that some Bedouins have made use of their stay in town to pray at the shrine of a hero of Yore. Some two or three inhabitants of the neighbourhood of Damascus, in their many-coloured cloaks, divested themselves at the threshold of their clumsy shoes, whilst a seller of lemonade has set down his glass jar on a bench; a lemon is stuck on the peculiar brass mouthpiece of the former. On a platter we see some flat bread cakes strewn with sesame and rings; also plums, whose home is said to be Damascus. The owner of these goodies has a little portable table, which is now standing near the wing of the door. A black scholar squats on the floor, near the entrance, zealously reading the Koran whilst his hands play with a rosary. His many-colored coat is ornamented with holy writings. At the fountain a belated dervish is just beginning his ablutions. The niche for prayer is at the right hand of the marble pillar, whilst to the left is the grave of the saint, with his weapons, his large rosary, tambourine and the horn of an ibex. All these implements are carried about in procession to the diverse graves of the saints. A leader in prayer stands high up, whilst behind him the devout follow him at various paces of quickness. The lanterns consist from a frame work of wood or metal, from which one or more glasses are suspended; these contain water and oil to feed the wick" (Kühner, op. cit., p. 218). It is evident that Bauernfeind, mainly due to his education as an architect, pays tremendous attention to structural detail. Nevertheless, it is also detectable, particularly in light of the above excerpt that he also observed the people closely and aimed to capture their spirit.

Bauernfeind's method of building up a composition is quite similar to present day animation techniques: first a background is established which will set the general mood for the scene, later the figures will be placed onto this stage to act their roles. Both stages of development are equally important for the success of the final product. A watercolour study for the present work is an intense and powerful depiction of bright rays of sun juxtaposed against shadows and large, powerful walls, but its lack of human figures is almost haunting. It feels like an ancient and abandoned ruin or more like a theatre stage. At this level of compositional structuring Bauernfeind chose to test the validity of his selected setting as well as the potential viewpoints. The background once firmly established, he would insert the figures. On the surface a seemingly easy task with underlying complexities: all of the painting's autonomous motifs are based on reality, yet have been compositionally pulled together in one man's fantasy. We know from his diaries that Bauernfeind had worked diligently on documenting the local people from their costumes to their body language. He would often pay passers-by to pose for drawings or photographs and once in his studio, he would carefully reconstruct scenes that best described the mood and lifestyles of the locals that he had so carefully observed.

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