Lot 161: EMILE-JEAN-HORACE VERNET (Paris 1789-1863)
IMPORTANT OLD MASTER PAINTINGS
January 26, 2001
New York, NY, USA
Description: Portrait of a man, said to be Mohammed Ali Pasha (1769-1849), seated full-length, in Turkish costume signed and dated 'H.Vernet 1821' oil on canvas 543/4 x 375/8 in. (139 x 95.5 cm.) NOTES Although he was soon to establish himself as one of the leading painters in France with the large-scale battle-pieces, vignettes of army life and orientalist genre scenes for which he remains famous, in the 1810s, Horace Vernet was a struggling painter with a young family to keep. He supported himself through the sale of lithographs, many to popular journals. In 1818 Delpech published a portfolio of ten lithographs by Vernet, the Croquis lithographiques, among which was a bust-length portrait of Mohammad Ali Pasha that was based on a sketch made by his friend the comte de Forbin. The present portrait -- an arresting image of the same sitter, signed and dated 1821 -- followed three years later, and must have been painted on one of Mohammad Ali's frequent trips tp Paris. Mohammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849), was a Macedonian lieutenant in the Ottoman army who fought the French invaders, lead by Napoleon Bonaparte, and drove them from Egypt. Supported by the Egyptian people, he became the Ottoman Sultan's Viceroy in May 1805; in July of that year he was officially appointed by the Sublime Porte as Egypt's Governor. Dedicated to the development of a modern Egypt, he ruthlessly eradicated the Mamlucks, the former ruling oligarchy, in a notorious massacre at the Citadel in 1811. An ambitious expansionist and unafraid of using his military might, Mohammad Ali Pasha controlled much of the Ottoman Empire by the late 1830s. Vernet's Portrait of Mohammad Ali Pasha conveys something of the confident power of the 52 year-old ruler. The artist must have been familiar with Anne-Louis Girodet's Portrait of the Mameluck Katchef Dahouth (Art Institute of Chicago), which employs a similar format -- seated, full-length, close-cropped -- to convey the exotic sitter's quiet but imposing authority. Girodet's painting, which is signed and dated 1804, was one of the sensations of that year's Salon, and Vernet would certainly have remembered it; he must also have been aware that in invoking Girodet's Mamluke in his portait of Mohammad Ali Pasha, he subtly alluded to the triumph of his sitter over the Empire's previous ruling elite. SALESROOM NOTICE Dr. K.E. Fleming of New York University has suggested that the sitter is more likely to be Ali Pasha of Ioannina (?1750-1822), the Ottoman-appointed governor of the northern mainland of Greece, and a towering figure in Ottoman, Greek and European history. Dubbed by Lord Byron the "Muslim Bonaparte", Ali Pasha of Ioannina enjoyed a position of diplomatic strength in the eastern Adriatic and was a critical point of contact between western Europe and the Ottoman East in the latter half of the 18th and the early 19th century. As a result, he drew tremendous interest from European artists and poets, many of whom travelled specifically to document him and his renowned eccentricities. Please note that this frame is on loan from Diego Salazar, Master Framing and will not be sold with the painting.