Adolf Schreyer (1828 - 1899)

Lot 152: Adolf Schreyer , German 1828-1899 The Charge oil on canvas


October 23, 2008
New York, NY, US

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Description: signed Ad. Schreyer and dated 1869 (lower right) oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements 31 1/8 by 49 3/4 in. alternate measurements 79 by 126.4 cm
Provenance: Anthony Ralph Gallery, New York
The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida
Notes: We would like to thank Dr. Christoph Andreas for kindly confirming the authenticity of this lot.
The recipient of numerous international awards and honors, and a favorite with both the German aristocracy and the most celebrated American families of the Gilded Age, Adolf Schreyer must number among the most successful Orientalist painters of his generation. The bravura of his technique - vastly different from the tightly painted, intensely detailed, and exceptionally lucid canvases of his German and Austro-Hungarian colleagues - was perfectly suited to his preferred subject matter, the Arab rider and his horse. During the course of Schreyer's thirty-year career, turbulent depictions of Algerian horsemen at battle eventually gave way to more calculated compositions, in which elaborately dressed Arab figures ride through rough terrain, either singly or in groups. (Mounted Arab, lot number 166, is a particularly fine example of this type.) Like his mentor Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876), Schreyer often accorded the landscapes in these images an exaggerated role, infusing them with the dominant colors of North Africa. Rather than the "cool view" of the younger artist, however, who admitted to being overwhelmed by the "advent and triumph of gray," Schreyer adopted a richer and more vibrant palette. The expansive blue skies of The Raid, accented with white clouds, and the vigorously painted ochre, brown and rust-red ground of Bedouin Riders (lot number 172), are signature elements of this style. Schreyer began his study of equine anatomy in Germany, at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and, at the urging of his teacher Jakob Becker (1810-1872), the Düsseldorf Academy. Later, he settled in Vienna, where he specialized in landscapes and military subjects, then much in demand. In 1855, after traveling to Turkey, Wallachia and southern Russia with the Prince of Thurn and Taxis, Schreyer accompanied the Prince's regiment as an artist-reporter, assigned to cover the Crimean War (1853/4-6). By 1859, Schreyer had visited Syria and Egypt and, in 1861, Algeria. It was the latter country, and the sketches that he made there, that would change the course of Schreyer's career - and indeed his life. While in Algeria, Schreyer immersed himself in the local culture, learning several Arab dialects and riding with Bedouin horsemen. (The term "Bedouin" comprises several tribes of nomadic herders and traders located throughout the Middle East and North Africa.) The Charge painted after a series of successes at the Paris Salon, is entirely characteristic of the works that these travels inspired. Painstaking detail (note particularly the horses' trappings) merges seamlessly with the animated facture seen elsewhere in the composition, striking a perfect balance between impressionism and realism. Schreyer's confidence at rendering equine anatomy is evident in the variety of intricate poses that he endeavors to portray; the dramatic image of a stumbling horse, moreover, its rider cascading to the ground, pays a subtle tribute to another of Schreyer's mentors, Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) (see, for example, The Lion Hunt of 1861 [Chicago Art Institute]). Though there is no indication as to the identity of these Arab figures, or indeed of any of the horsemen in Schreyer's energetic works, history provides a clue. In 1871, compelled by religion and nationalist sentiment, 100,000 Algerian tribesmen had waged war on the occupying French forces. The raised lances and flintlock rifles of the riders in these works may be directed toward this fight. It is left for us, however, to determine whose cause Schreyer is ultimately supporting. This catalogue note was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks.
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