Théobald Chartran (1849 - 1907)

Lot 146: Théobald Chartran , French 1849-1907 The Chibouk Smoker oil on panel


October 23, 2008
New York, NY, US

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Description: signed T. CHARTRAN . and dated 1877 (lower right) oil on panel
Dimensions: measurements 16 by 12 1/2 in. alternate measurements 40.6 by 31.7 cm
Provenance: Adolph (Adolf) Kohn, New York, inventory no. 62 (between 1877 and 1881)
Samuel Munson (1826-1881), Utica, NY
Thence by descent (until 1982)
Gifted from the above to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Notes: The preferred portraitist of American presidents, European socialites, and even the Pope, Théobald Chartran dominated the international art world in this genre between 1880 and 1910. As an Orientalist painter, Chartran's name is less well known. The handful of works he produced with the Middle East or North Africa as their themes have only occasionally surfaced, and all but two are pen and ink studies.υ1 The Chibouk Smoker, exceptionally rare in Chartran's oeuvre, offers firm evidence that this artist must be considered one of Orientalism's greatest unsung masters. The smoker of the picture's title sits outside a mosque, on a mastaba or doorstep. He wears an abayah, a traditional woolen outer garment featuring broad brown and white panels. Underneath its heavy folds the red serge uniform of a bashi bazouk, or Ottoman irregular soldier, is visible.υ2 The conflation of these garments might allude to Chartran's mentors at the time: both John Frederick Lewis (1804-1876) and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) created series of Orientalist works in which these fashions were prominently displayed (fig. 1). (Chartran may have known Lewis's works through his connection with the Royal Academy in London; he exhibited at that venue several times during the course of his cosmopolitan career. Gérôme's paintings, many of which share an identical composition to The Chibouk Smoker, would have been well known to Chartran in Paris, both through exhibitions and prints distributed by Goupil.) Atop the man's head is an elaborately wrapped turban. The bulk of its form provides a striking contrast to the delicate features of his face: his high cheekbones, firm jaw line, and narrow, slightly upturned nose are exquisitely modeled, reminding us of Chartran's rigorous training at the École des Beaux Arts and his consummate skill as a portrait painter. From the man's lips, a wisp of smoke escapes. With his eyes half-closed, one leg comfortably tucked beneath the other, and scimitar (or saif) laid absentmindedly across his lap, Chartran's chibouk smoker is the picture of detached repose.υ3 In 1877, the year this work was painted, Chartran received the coveted Prix de Rome. (It was also in this year that he painted his best-known work, a portrait of Pope Leo XIII.) While it is not known if he ventured further at this time, perhaps even to the region here portrayed, his later travels are well documented. In America, Chartran maintained a studio in New York at 10 East 33υrd Street and exhibited frequently at Knoedler's; popular throughout the Eastern seaboard, one of his pictures is now included in the White House Art Collection. There is a label on the back of the frame belonging to the dealer Adolph (Adolf) Kohn. A stencil on the frame includes the word "Paris;" the meaning is unclear. This catalogue note was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks. The work is sold with its original French period frame. υ1 In 1871, Chartran executed the allegorical painting Les Exiles de Thebes [private collection]. Pen and ink studies include a military convoy in North Africa and thirteen "Etudes d'orientaux."
υ2 The bashi bazouks had no standard uniform, in fact, but rather a typical clothing style: this included baggy shalwars (trousers), short leather or cloth vests, knee-high leggings, often with embroidery, and leather shoes or sandals. These soldiers could be identified by their complicated headgear as well.
υ3 The chibouk can be identified by its knobbed amber mouth-piece, long cherry wood stem, and small rounded bowl, made of baked clay. Though difficult to find in the Middle East today, it was among the most popular forms of smoking devices in the nineteenth-century, and often appears in Orientalist art.
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