Arthur Von Ferraris was born on December 13 1856 in Galkowitz, Hungary and began his artistic career in Vienna as a student of the renowned portraitist Joseph Matthaüs Aigner. During the first half of the 1880's he decided to move to Paris where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jules Lefebvre who both taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
As for most of the generation of Orientalist painters of the 19th Century, Gérôme's influence undoubtedly initiated Ferraris' interest in depicting Muslim subjects in North Africa. Street scenes in Egypt, particularly in Cairo, became his most celebrated and sought after theme. In the winter of 1885, he traveled to Cairo with Ludwig Deustch and following this trip his work would often be compared to that of the great Austrian master. Driving a Bargain is a great example of the connection between the two artists as it bears several similarities in composition and style with The Orange Seller (fig. 1).
Caroline Williams comments: 'The corner-stone depicted in this picture is the entrance porch of the Mosque of Al-Maridani, dated 1340, and Ferraris has turned what in the mosque porch is just a blind niche into a shop. He then painted a street on the left, instead of a vista into the mosque courtyard. Just like Deutsch, and inspired by their teacher Gérôme, Ferraris has manipulated real details into an Oriental fantasy'. The practice of using and interchanging architectural elements was indeed quite common for the Austrian Orientalist Deutsch, and Ferraris used very the same technique in Driving a Bargain that was used in the Orange Seller.
Caroline Juler believes the two artists might have been working in collaboration given the similarities in some of their pictures (Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 109). Deutsch's The Arab University in Cairo was painted the same year as Arriving at the Mosque (titled in the Paris Salon Visite du grand Sheikh à l'Université du Caire (fig 2) which is believed to have been Ferraris' first Orientalist work to have been exhibited in Paris in 1890. This picture, painted the same year as Driving a Bargain, also includes the main model depicted in the foreground of the present picture.
Driving a Bargain is among the finest examples of Ferraris' oeuvre to be discovered to the public so far. The artist has acheived a similar photographic exactitude in which masters like Gérôme and Deustch perfected, as well as the blend of architecture and vibrant colors which make of this painting a true gem of Orientalism.
As with Deutsch in the Orange Seller, in Driving a Bargain Ferraris manages to render the same atmosphere of the everyday encounters between the crowds and the street vendors. His focus on the merchant seated on the right and the two buyers, as well as his use of vibrant colors and close attention to the most minute details, enhances the immediacy of the picture and ranks Ferraris with the greatest proponents of realism in Orientalist Art.
(Fig. 1.) Ludwig Deutsch, The Orange Seller, sold at Christie's New York on 26 October 2005, $990,400.)
(Fig. 2.) Arthur Von Ferraris, Arriving at the Mosque, Najd Collection, Photo Courtesy: Mathaf Gallery, London.