Born in Paris in 1841, Emile Guillemin made his début at the Salon in 1870 with a pair of Roman gladiators, later winning an Honourable Mention for sculpture in 1897. Although his oeuvre included a wide range of subjects, Guillemin specialised in exotic types and was renowned as a proponent of the Orientalist movement.
The present pair, first exhibited at the Salon of 1880, is an example of the finely detailed polychrome sculptures for which Guillemin is best known. A controversial genre when revived in the 1850s by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier and John Gibson, polychrome became increasingly fashionable in the 1860s, eventually meriting its own class at the Salons and International Expositions.
An unusual and romantic subject for portraiture, the Janissaire was a member of an elite corps in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Originally composed of war captives pressed into service, they eventually gained power, making and unmaking sultans, before being abolished under Sultan Mahmud II (d.1839).
The vogue for 'Moorish' or 'Turkish' taste was first popularised in America by the Turkish bazaar at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, and continued unabated through the 1880s. The presence of a retailer's mark for the prestigious New York firm of Tiffany and Company is an indication that this subject matter had a ready market in America at the end of the 19th Century.