Description: The sahleb vendor, Cairo
signed, inscribed and dated 'L. Deutsch Paris 1886' (upper left)
oil on panel
21 1/2 x 17 3/4 in. (54.6 x 45.1 cm.)
Painted in 1886.
Artist or Maker: Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935)
Literature: M.H. Günther Wimmer, Les Orientalistes des Ècoles Allemandes et Autrichiennes, Paris, 2000, p. 212 (illustrated).
Provenance: J. Oakley Maud; her sale, Christie's, 9 May 1903, lot 18 (230 gns. to Vokins).
C. Morley, M.P., 1903.
Thence by descent to Miss C. Morley, London.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, 30 November 1990, lot 70. with Mathaf Gallery, London.
with Borghi and Co., New York.
Notes: Austrian by birth, Ludwig Deutsch spent most of his working career in Paris where he achieved great success in the 1890s with his highly detailed scenes of daily life in Egypt, winning a Gold Medal at the Salon of 1900.
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Deutsch travelled to Egypt in 1886, 1890 and 1898. These formative trips allowed him to gather subjects and motifs for his oeuvre. In his studios in Paris and the South of France he kept a vast amount of objects collected during his travels, such as tiles, furniture, arms, pipes, fabrics and costumes. Also, like many of his contemporaries, he made use of photography to ensure the maximum amount of archaeological accuracy in his painted renderings of local architecture, tile and stone work, and the traditional 'mashrabiyyah' woodwork.
Like his sumptuous interior scenes, Deutsch's renditions of the street life of Cairo were bravura exercises in the detailed rendition of surface textures, artfully composed from the artefacts and sketches he brought back to his studios. However, Deutsch was equally fascinated by the compositional possibilities afforded by everyday encounters between small crowds and a central figure - whether street sellers, snake charmers or healers.
In this painting the artist focuses on the central figure of the drink vendor, imbuing him with a dignity that lends the scene a powerful sense of gravitas. Typically for Deutsch, the realism of the detail is countered by an almost ritualistic atmosphere. Instead of a chaotic street scene, he has created a tableau centred on the complex relationships between the different figures.
In all likeliness, this astonishing painting features a vendor of sahleb, a traditional Egyptian drink made by placing milk in a heavy soup pan over fire and adding a mixture of cornstarch, water, vanilla and sugar. This was brought to a boil and then served topped with cinnamon and coconut and was most popular during the chilly winter months in Cairo. Deutsch captures, in all their extraordinary detail, the different characters of the Egyptian street, gathered around the emblematic 'makeshift' vendor that one can still witness to this day in the Egyptian capital.
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