Renowned for his dynamic and atmospheric paintings of horses and battles, as well as masculine depictions of Arab warriors, Adolf Schreyer occupies a special place in the Orientalist genre. He began his studies in his native Germany as a military and landscape painter at the Städel Institute in Frankfurt, later continuing his training in Stuttgart, Munich and Düsseldorf where his lessons even included riding and horse anatomy. These lessons would serve him well as his artistic career was spent following various military campaigns of the Austrian army. In the late 1840s, he was called to travel with Prince Thurn and his regiment through Hungary, Wallachia and southern Russia and in 1854 during the Crimean War, he followed the regiment onto the battlefield as an official war artist. The early 1860s found Schreyer travelling through North Africa, Egypt and Syria where he thoroughly immersed himself in Bedouin life, mastering various Arab dialects as well as taking on their customs and the dress. Not surprisingly, the mountainous and arid landscape of these regions proved to be a rich source of imagery for his paintings.
The present work was painted in 1863, one year after the artist's move to Paris and during a period when the artist was looking to firmly establish himself on the local art scene. One of Schreyer's most dynamic compositions, The Chase, depicts a group of Bedouin warriors in full gallop charging through the desert landscape. The rapidity and nervous quality of the brushstroke emphasizes the forward momentum of the riders; the vivid red cloak of the rider in the center identifying him as the leader.
At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Schreyer returned to his native Germany and actively painted until his death in 1899. Due to his successful career, he was appointed court painter to the Grand Duke of Mecklenberg and was offered membership to both the Amsterdam and Rotterdam Academies.
Schreyer enjoyed a devoted following of loyal patrons which included members of the German aristocracy as well as American millionaires such as the Astors, Rockefellers and Morgans. The present work was first documented in the collection of John Taylor Johnston, the first president and founding member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Later acquired by American railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt, it was prominently displayed in the impressive picture gallery of his New York mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue (fig. 1).
(fig. 1) Interior photo of William H. Vanderbilt's private picture gallery with The Chase hanging to the top right of the doorway.