Description: The Palace Attendant
signed, inscribed and dated 'L. Deutsch Paris 1901' (lower left)
oil on panel
25 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (64.8 x 47 cm.)
Painted in 1901
Artist or Maker: Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935)
Notes: THE PROPERTY OF A NEW ENGLAND GENTLEMAN
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Ludwig Deutsch, arguably the most important Austrian Orientalist, was born in Vienna, and attended the city's renowned Academy of Fine Arts before settling in Paris. Largely influenced by Jean-Léon Gérôme's academic style, he began traveling to the Middle East, particularly to Egypt, by the 1880s. Although little is known about Deutsch's visits to Egypt, it appears that from 1883 until 1904 he traveled there as many as five times. Deutsch's home outside Paris was also decorated in the fashionable Orientalist style and housed a large collection of objects he brought back from his travels to the Middle East. Many of these props, such as daggers, arm shields and hookahs appear frequently in his compositions adding color and texture to the overall composition while demonstrating the riches of the Eastern lands.
The year 1900 marked the pinnacle of Deutsch's career, for he was awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle for an Orientalist composition. This most coveted award of accomplishment was a sign of absolute excellence and of exceptional genius. The present work, painted in 1901, is therefore from the hand of the master at the peak of his career.
Nubian figures in particular captured the imagination of the artist, for they appear often in his oeuvre and are some of his most desired and popular images (fig. 1). In antiquity, Nubia was a land of great natural wealth, of gold mines, ebony, ivory and incense. Some of Africa's greatest civilizations had their origins here, centers of wealth based on industry and trade. Deutsch's triumph with Nubian subject matter parallels that of Gérôme's with Bashi-Bazouks. Despite the high glossy finish, the microscopic detail and the exemplary attention to photographic exactitude, Deutsch achieves a total expression of his subject's individual character. In order to capture the smallest details, Deutsch paints with a hairline brush and strives to include every wrinkle and thread. The intensely detailed depiction of the Nubian model and his garments enhanced by his isolated framing produce a psychologically penetrating image. Deutsch conveys the nobility, strength and grace that were the essence of a palace guard. The glorious combination of the attendant's majestic posture enhanced by the luscious textiles, and the grand edifice with masonry in ablaq courses with a regal brass gateway are all the products of Deutsch's astounding dexterity.
(fig. 1) Ludwig Deutsch, The Palace Guard, sold at Christie's, New York, 1 November 1999, lot 44.