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A private collection of Orientalist paintings such as the one presented here usually reflects the interest of the owner in certain themes. It is often these, as well as the renown of the artists, which attract buyers, both individuals and public institutions. Orientalism is a dialogue between cultures, even more so today than in the past, since countries in North Africa and the Near and Middle East are now very active in the art market. It is, too, a precious pictorial memory, since the pictures relate scenes and traditions still extant or which have disappeared for ever.
In this collection, there are artists renowned for their pictures of magnificent pure-blood horses: Henri Rousseau, Adolf Schreyer, Georges Washington, Eugène Fromentin, Giulio Rosati. Sometimes the riders are armed, as there were often clashes between tribes for territorial reasons, or as a defence against possible attacks on travellers. Victor Huguet, on the other hand, shows horsemen accompanying an Algerian family on the move, whose members are on foot or transported in an attatich, a tent mounted on the backs of dromedaries, which housed mothers, children, and also rugs and cooking utensils.
In many of the works, one can appreciate the careful attention the artists paid to rugs, carpets, embroidery, elaborate clothes, carved wood or marble, ceramic tiles, and other traditional and highly appreciated crafts of the Oriental countries. These serve as backgrounds for scenes of everyday life such as men playing backgammon, dancers and musicians, and the lovely intimate painting by Rudolf Ernst of a woman giving a manicure to her companion. As for Jean-Baptiste Huysmans, he was an excellent and unusual colourist and a wide traveller, who has introduced a note of humour in his picture: a servant is hesitant about entering the room where there has been a marital discord.
Gustav Bauernfeind's painting of the Umayyad mosque, also known as the Great Mosque, is of exceptional interest. The artist was amongst the first to paint in the city of Damascus, one of the three most sacred sites in Islam and a gathering place for thousands of Muslims leaving for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Not only that, this ancient and vast edifice, once considered to be one of the marvels of the world, was also open to Oriental Christians who wished to pray at the crypt of St. John the Baptist. It was, and still is, a symbol of acceptance and tolerance between people of different origins and beliefs.
Lynne Thornton, Expert and art historian, has specialised in Orientalist paintings for many years. She has written a number of books and press articles, as well as contributions to international exhibition catalogues, on this subject.