This is a rare example of one of the artist's last Moroccan paintings, here executed with the mature power about to be seen in his Indian work of the subsequent decade (circa 1882-circa 1892). As Weeks moved from Tangier to Paris in 1880, Une caravane du Soudan ..., painted circa 1881-1882, may be seen as an important late hommage to his life and work in Morocco from the vantage of his new Paris studio.
Notwithstanding the superb naturalism, coloration and detail of the foreground figures and animals, the astonishing architectural portal which forms the background of the present painting was, in Weeks' inimitable way, the true subject of the work. A related painting, Mounted Arabs before the Red Gate (commonly, but mistakenly, known as 'The Red Gate, Rabat', presently at the Portland [Maine] Museum of Art, bequeathed in 1913, illustrated as Fig. 4 in D. Dodge Thompson, Edwin Lord Weeks, American Painter of India, 'The Magazine Antiques', Vol. 128, No. 2, Aug. 1985, p. 250) permits us to identify some elements of the architectural background as relating to one of the great gateways to the old city of Rabat, Morocco. In the present work, this gateway is depicted as having been infilled, transforming it into an inn and gathering spot (Fondak) for a weary caravan.
In a characteristic, oblique composition, Weeks draws us into the scene, in which the draftsmanship and modelling of the animals and figures shows Weeks naturalism at its best, particularly evident in the minor narrative centering around the bare-chested figure. Despite the brilliance with which the camels and figures are executed, it is still the wall and its archway which dominates. Typically, it is on the architecture stonework that Weeks lavishes much concentration, capturing it with an extraordinary fidelity to detail and to nuance of light and shadow, ultimately lending a sense of grandeur to the whole scene.
To be included in Dr. Ellen K. Morris' forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Weeks.
We are grateful to Dr. Ellen K. Morris for preparing this catalogue entry.