Description: Edwin Lord Weeks (American, 1849-1903) Steps of the Mosque Vazirkham, Lahore signed 'E. L. Weeks' (lower left) oil on canvas 26 x 32 in. (66 x 81.3 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Edwin Lord Weeks (American, 1849-1903)
Provenance: Jordan Volpe Gallery, New York, circa 1991.
Notes: PROPERTY FROM THE JEAN & GRAHAM DEVOE WILLIFORD CHARITABLE TRUST
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Edwin Lord Weeks first encountered the great city of Lahore in 1888, on his second expedition to India. The city, in what is now Pakistan, formed the western gateway of India, and reflected the architectural influences of the Moghul courts, as can be seen in the fagade of the great mosque of Vazir Kahn, built in 1634 by the Vizir of Shah Jehan, the structure that anchors the main public square of the city.
Indeed, this dazzling monument proved to be the creative highlight of the city for Weeks. For the artist, it was the perfect subject-a complex, colorful, exotic architectural backdrop in a brilliant sunlit setting, serving, in the present painting, as the perfect foil for an opulent array of animals and mankind, from noble to common. Weeks was captivated by the mosque and its setting, and used it in a series of paintings. In the present depiction, Weeks painted it close-in, almost as if the grand steps and the entry door formed an operatic stage set-grand and full of colorful detail-for the drama of daily life in the city square. Others of his paintings of the scene are set farther from the mosque itself, allowing the viewer to behold the entire lofty fagade, as in the version entitled The Jumna Musjid - Lahore, India (fig. 1). Still other views are set at an ever greater distance, from across the public square, as in the vast, 62 by 96-inch canvas An Open-Air Restaurant, Lahore, India, while an equally impressive view of the interior, The Court of the Mosque Vazir Kahn , was exhibited in the Empire of India Exhibition (as no. 37). For Weeks, this building was indeed a visual treasure trove:
The entire front of the gateway is a brilliant mosaic of the kind known as 'kashi-work,' and the four massive towers, as well as the fagade of the inner court, repeat the same scheme of blue and yellow and faded green. Age has but mellowed the tone of the whole edifice, and the great Persian letters of the inscription over the main entrance are still resplendent in vivid turquoise blue, which translates as 'Remove thy heart from the gardens of the world, and know that this building is the true abode of man'.
The frescoed walls within the niche, of which the ornamentation above is less deeply indented than in the Persian examples of similar work, have taken on a rich bituminous and smoky tone like an old painting; and the dado above the square platform on each side of the steps, which is of marble, once white, threaded with slender black lines forming interlaced stars and hexagons, has been toned by age and the contact of many garments to a golden brown. The venerable Mussulmans [Muslims] privileged to pass their lives on the steps and the lounging-place on either side may be seen there at any time of the day ... When not asleep or otherwise employed they appear to be absorbed in vague speculations upon the infinite, but, like their European imitators, are doubtless dreaming of mere material things. It is their custom to begin the day with a sort of dress parade-a minute investigation of their tattered raiment.
Having completed their inspection, they proceed to select a, sunny exposure if in winter, or when the hot winds blow they retreat into the dim brick-vaulted corridor provided for their comfort by the munificence of an imperial Vizir, and proceed to do nothing. A few of the elect, whose heads are well thatched with a shock of black hair, and with faces tanned to the color of burnt sienna, have literally gone to the dogs, and grovel in the dust at some distance from the steps among the canine frequenters of the sacred spot; their unique garment being of the same color as the ground, they are scarcely distinguishable from it. ...
There is, in truth, a good deal of life and movement to be seen from the crumbling steps of Vazir Khan.'
(Weeks. From the Black Sea through Persia and India, pp. 176-78)
It is this last thought that Weeks was to capture in the present, truly grand, version of the Mosque of Vazir Kahn - a genuine melding of animate and architectural form, with stunning color defined on the surfaces of both by the blazing light of Lahore.
We are grateful to Dr. Ellen K. Morris for contributing this catalogue essay on the painting. 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.