Lot 14: Edwin Lord Weeks , American 1849-1903 THE GRAND VIZIER oil on canvas
19th Century European Art
October 23, 2007
New York, NY, USA
Description: signed E.L. Weeks (lower left) oil on canvas
We are grateful to Dr. Ellen K. Morris for researching and writing this catalogue entry. This work will be included in the Weeks catalogue raisonné, under preparation by Dr. Morris. A Letter of Authentication by Dr. Morris accompanies the painting.
The Grand Vizier, probably painted in the fall of 1892, is one of Edwin Lord Weeks' scarce Persian paintings, and is a product of the last of Weeks' three great eastern expeditions from his Paris studio--this time to heretofore unexplored lands of the far Middle East, across Persia for the first and only time (1892), and finally into India for the third and last time (1893). Persia was his greatest overland challenge, as he had to cross the arduous deserts and rugged mountain routes during much of the time by horse-drawn caravan, dodging lethal cholera epidemics as he went. His artistic production was limited by such hardships, including a climate often too frigid for painting. At last he reached the lush, temperate plains of southern Persia, where it was the exotic and often spectacular ancient Islamic capital of Ispahan that brought forth Weeks' greatest creative output in Persia-its lofty blue-tiled Mosque, its tombs, its huge, colorful bazaars, its poplar-lined boulevards, and other striking sights and colorful inhabitants inspiring his creativity. It is likely that The Grand Vizier is set in Ispahan. In Moslem countries such as Persia a Vizier was a high government officer, especially a Minister of State. It is thus unlikely Weeks would have set his Vizier anywhere but in the capital of State that was Ispahan. Across the background of the painting we see a portion of a typical Persian "caravansary"-a long architectural enclosure composed of individual vaulted "cells" providing nightly shelter for caravan parties. In southern Persia the fronts are enclosed by wooden lattices infilled with pale blue panes of glass, their lower sections opening as doors. The open vault at the far left is the entry into the bazaar, suggested by figures crowded within. Weeks marks this vault with its special nature and distinguishes it from the other vaults simply by setting ultramarine tiles within the recess of the wall above the opening; these also happen to cover the entire facade of the famous Mosque of Ispahan. Weeks uses pencil-thin lines of light to emphasize the foreground positions of the principal figures and rich colors to contrast their forms against the muted background surrounding them. Weeks endows the distinguished elderly figure of the bearded Vizier with added importance by positioning him at the high-point among the assembled foreground figures, and by framing his figure within the external outline of the central vault of the caravansary. Weeks' Vizier appears to be concluding business with a representative of the Court, who stands to his side, dressed in a radiant salmon-colored skirt with fancy brocaded vest, his head bowed in deference to the Vizier. Weeks embellishes the grand rank of the Vizier with what appears to be a crimson velvet robe from neck to toe scattered with accents, perhaps of gold, and an exceptional tall pink headdress tied at the top with a fanciful tuft of pale yellow feathers. Fitting the Vizier's status and contrasting handsomely with the muted roadway is the Vizier's opalescent-white Arabian horse, profusely decorated with red tassels atop his head and across his neck, with his head arched low in a refined equine pose. For Weeks the horse is a primary decorative vehicle as much as he is a real, breathing animal, and in the context of the painting he also becomes a symbol of the special Islamic culture he represents. At the lower-right corner is a richly lacquered mahogany trunk, on the end of which sits a major foreground figure in a local tunic of Weeks' characteristic Persian blue-a particular blue he frequently features in his Persian scenes. To his right is an older figure in an ochre shirt with multiple creases and folds profiled by the sun. Weeks' employs his keen draftsmanship to depict the deeply etched face of this fair-skinned attendant, who raises his arm to shield his eyes from the blazing light of the afternoon sun. Happily, The Grand Vizier retains its original gilt orientalist frame as specified by Weeks. Its design is based on the repetitive chain-link design based on a famous Islamic phrase from the Koran, which Weeks first saw carved into the walls at the Alhambra. Rooted in Arabic, it translates as "THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH", and it is linked end-to-end along all four sides of the frame. Weeks specified such a frame for many of his Persian (and some Moroccan) works, seeing it as particularly appropriate for an Islamic subject or scene in a Moslem country. The number "210" was recently discovered inscribed long ago in a corner of the verso of the frame of The Grand Vizier. The lot number assigned the painting in the artist's estate sale of 1905 was No. 210. This coincidence is therefore proof that the present frame is original to the painting.
The artist's estate, 1903-05
Julius D. Ichenhauser, New York, 1905 (acquired at the above sale)
Possibly, Henry Walters, Baltimore, ca. 1905 (acquired from the above)
Private Collection, New York
Thence by descent to the present owners
Dimensions: measurements 20 by 24 in. alternate measurements 50.8 by 60.9 cm
F.D. Millet, Catalogue of Very Important Finished Pictures, Studies / Sketches and Original / Drawings / by the late / Edwin Lord Weeks; American Art Galleries, New York, 1905; lot no. 210 ($250), as "The Grand Vizier"
Florence N. Levy, ed., American Art Annual 1905-06, vol. 5, New York; p. 103
Edwin Lord Weeks, From the Black Sea through Persia and India; New York, 1895; pp. 82-88, on Weeks' travels through Ispahan and Shiraz, Persia. See for a related plate p. 95, "On the Chehar Bagh, 'Ispahan" and p. 115, "Caravansary at Shiraz."