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Orientalist Drawings

Orientalist drawings provide a fascinating look into a particular time in world history, documenting the introduction of foreign cultures to the Western world during the 19th century. These works include illustrations of wild animals, battle scenes, and figurative works that convey a worldview imbued with naiveté and wonder for the people, flora, and fauna of distant lands that were in the midst of being "discovered" through the forces of Imperial expansion and colonization.

Before the advent of the camera, the vast majority of French and British citizens had never seen and could never imagine what a bazaar, an indigenous island tribesman, or a camel looked like. While drawings from this period reflect aspects of cultural ignorance, they also reflect the wonder of a world filled with the possibility of endless expansion and continually discovered treasures. While the height of Orientalist art lasted scarcely a century, its influence remains ingrained in the history of Western art through the present day.

Quick Facts

  • Henri Matisse, long after the decline of Orientalist art, incorporated the classical trope of the "odalisque" or Middle Eastern concubine as a recurrent motif throughout his works
  • Examples of Orientalist drawings range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. They amount to an excellent value for many types of collectors
  • Another major influence of Orientalism was inspired from the east, as Japonisme, a preoccupation with the artistic aesthetic of Japan, figured prominently in the works of French 19th century Impressionist artists

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