Henri Regnault (1843 - 1871)



February 15, 1995
New York, NY, US

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Description: signed and dated "G. Clairin/.1875" lower left -- oil on canvas 32 x 26 in. (81 x 66 cm.) On entendait les pas et la voix des gens caches. Tout autour et au-dessus de nous s'agitait une vie invisible,...que la beaute et l'ame de la famille s'etaient refugiees dans ses profondeurs impenetrables, et que le spectacle, c'etait nopus, et que la maison restait un mystere (Edmond de Amico: Les Peintres Orientalistes, L. Thornton, p.21) It was precisley this "mystery", this "invisible life" that fascinated so many orientalist painters. As the women's quarters was the place where no men - and certainly no foreigners - could enter, the portrayal of the harem was an open invitation to the artist's imagination. Here was the perfect foil for an artist who described himself as "...avant tout un fantaisiste - faire tout ce qui me passe dans ma pauvre caboche, et le faire aussi bien qui possible." George Clairin studied alongside Henri Regnault at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The two travelled together - first to Brittany, then Spain and finally in 1869 to Morocco, where Clairin discovered a country richer and more exotic than his wildest dreams. The Franco-Prussian war was to cut the journey short and take the life of his friend Regnault. After the war Clairin returned to North Africa before going back to Paris where he joined Charles Garnier in the design and decoration of the Paris Opera (1862-1874). Clairin, a welcome member of the "tout Paris," was also commissioned to paint the murals of various municipal buildings such as the Bourse, the Hotel de Ville and the Sorbonne. Clairin soon took up travelling again through Italy, Spain and North Africa amalgamating his love of theater and his passion for the orient in his paintings. Even his portraits of close friend Sarah Bernhardt have an eastern flavor. In this harem scene of 1875 Clarin combines decorative talent and imagination. Exotic birds in a luxurious cage, the Sultan's favorites lean against the intricately inlaid walls or lie back on satin pillows, pulled down by the very weight of their sensuality, while eunichs and slaves cater to their every need.
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