As a student of the renowned Orientalist Jean-Léon Gérôme Frederick Arthur Bridgman absorbed his mentor's ability to filter the everyday of the East through his own Western lens, thereby creating an internal repertoire of exotic imagery upon which to draw. Having traveled extensively throughout Spain and North Africa, the American-born artist experienced the destinations he depicted, imbuing his works with a sense of authenticity often lacking in those of peers
Born November 10, 1847 in Tuskeegee, Alabama, but raised in Massachusetts, Bridgman was exposed to the diversity of American culture from an early age. His aptitude for draftsmanship was established in 1863 when, as an apprentice to the American Bank Note Company, he elected to take evening drawing classes at the Brooklyn Art Association. Two years later, his work was shown publicly for the first time at the Association's annual fall exhibition.
Eager to obtain the skills of a true French Academician, Bridgman moved overseas with the intention to train at the École des Beaux-Arts in June of 1866. Though he first spent a year painting peasants with the American artist Robert Wylie in the Breton village of Pont Aven, he eventually began his studies in Paris in February of 1867. It was at this time that the artist commenced his training in the prestigious Gérôme atelier. The summer and fall of 1872 proved be a period of significant stylistic influence. Relocating to the Pyrenees, Bridgman experienced clean air, intense sunlight, and the aesthetics of Spanish architecture. He was also exposed to the sensuous colors of the Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny, who inspired a lightening of his palette and kindled his interest in the exotic lands that lay across the Straight of Gibraltar.
Making his way down the Iberian Peninsula, Bridgman departed for North Africa on a trip that would prove to be the turning point in his career. From late autumn of 1872 to the spring of 1873, Bridgman traveled through Maghrib, visiting Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, venturing inland to the oasis towns that bordered the Sahara Desert. Such travels enhanced the artist's visual vocabulary and provided ample fodder for his paintings' subject matter.
Going to the Bath on rue du Sphinx, Algiers is a superb example of Bridgman's highly sophisticated technique and unique ability to capture moments in everyday life in this exotic city. The artist has taken a mundane moment in the life of a servant and turned it into a tour -de -force of color, light and texture. Although a servant, the woman in the center of the painting is dressed in a sumptuous rose-colored embroidered rob, covered by a rich blue outer garment which is offset by the start white attire of the woman seated in the doorway. This sharp contrast naturally draws the eye to the central figure outlined against the almost impressionistic rendering of the stone wall of the ancient street.
This image was published twice during Bridgman's lifetime, once in Harper's Monthly Magazine to illustrate an article excerpted from Bridgman's book Winters in Algeria, and again in the book itself (fig.1).
Bridgman's accuracy of vision and desire to depict the life and streets of Algiers as they appeared at the time is apparent by the fact that the street is still identifiable as rue de Sphinx today.
(Fig. 1). A detail of Going to the Bath on rue du Sphinx, Algiers from F. A. Bridgman, Winters in Algieria, p. 107.