This acutely observed painting of Egyptian carpetmakers is Rudolf Swoboda's Orientalist masterpiece. Far more elaborate than the simpler figure paintings and portraits for which he is more usually known, it displays an extraordinary understanding of texture, light and colour.
Swoboda's taste for Orientalist art was imbibed from his uncle, the painter Carl Leopold Müller, with whom he studied from 1878 to 1884, and whom he visited in Egypt in 1879. This marked the first of six visits made by the artist to Egypt between 1880 and 1891. In addition, as a court painter to Queen Victoria for whom he worked from 1885 to 1892, he travelled in 1886 to India, passing through Afghanistan and Kashmir on his way (M. Haja and G. Wimmer, Les Orientalistes des Écoles allemande et autrichienne, p. 336).
Unlike Gérôme, who painted the Orient as much to indulge the imagination of a Western audience as to reflect a social reality, Swoboda's paintings are grounded much more in day-to-day existence of the people he observed on his travels. The subject matter of the present work was treated by all the major Orientalist painters (see, for example, lot 67), but rarely to such harmonious effect. The composition is rhythmic and wonderfully balanced; the five mounds of fabric and carpet which anchor the composition are balanced by the swaying movement of the figures, and a sense of lightness conveyed by the fluttering doves on the left. The viewer's eye meanders across the centre of the composition, taking in a wealth of detail which is both precisely rendered, but painterly enough to convey a strong sense of plasticity and texture.