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 Ecole 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 Maghreb, 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.
Frederick Arthur Bridgman executed the present painting around the time when his teacher Gérôme's influence on him was the greatest. Compositionally, and in terms of academic and detailed execution, the present work clearly shows the influence of his master. In Tête à Tête the figures are drawn with immaculate attention to human anatomy and realistic detail, the paintings' coloring is realistic and the use of chiaroscuro is firmly grounded in the academic tradition.
In a letter dated 3 September 1998, Dr. Ilene Susan Fort writes, "During the late 1870s and early 1880s Bridgman painted a number of street scenes and a few interiors in which his cast of charcters were usually couples involved in quiet conversation." Tête à Tête is an excellent example from this period. The present lot also relates closely to other fine works by Bridgman namely Chess Players and The Game of Chance (fig. 1 and fig. 2). All three works date to approximately the same time period when Bridgman upheld his learnings from Gérôme's studio as the highest standard in Academic painting. From mid-1880's on, the artist began shifting to a more colorful palette and to a generally looser and broader application of paint. Through this technique Bridgman was able to translate the sunlight of the Magreb on to the canvas beautifully (see lots 66 and 67).
This work has been authenticated by Ilene Susan Fort and will be included in her forthcoming Bridgman catalogue raisonné.
(fig 1) Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Chess Players, 1880, Photo Courtesy: Mathaf Gallery, London.
(fig 2) Frederick Arthur Bridgman, The Game of Chess, 1885, Photo Courtesy Maurice Sternberg Galleries, Chicago.