domingo, 23 de septiembre de 2018


Christa Zaat

La imagen puede contener: 4 personas

Frederick Arthur Bridgman (American Painter) 1847 - 1928
Dans une Ville de Campagne Alger, 1883
oil on canvas 
48 3/8 x 64 in. (122.9 x 162.6 cm.) 
signed F. A Bridgman and dated 1888 (lower right)
private collection

Catalogue Note
In 1888, the American painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman exhibited two Algerian scenes at the annual Paris Salon, Summer Evening and Dans une ville de campagne Alger. Their popularity at that venue encouraged the artist to display them again a few months later, this time at the 1888 Exposition in Munich. Summer Evening received a Gold Medal, while the present work disappeared from sight. Known only through an engraving in the catalogue to the Paris Salon, Bridgman’s once-fêted picture was assumed “lost” by scholars. This sale marks the first time this painting has been exhibited publically in over a century.
Dans une ville de campagne Alger depicts a favorite theme in Bridgman’s Orientalist oeuvre – the leisurely pursuits of harem women. By the late 1880s, the artist was creating major exhibition works in which these activities took place out-of-doors, a decision compelled by his increasing interest in the ever-changing qualities of light and atmosphere in the Middle East and, in particular, in his beloved Algeria. (In addition to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Turkey, Bridgman would make several trips to that country during his lifetime.) While the narrative aspects of his pictures increasingly became an excuse for painting the sun-drenched white city of Algiers and its neighboring towns, and his style looser and more impressionistic, the ethnographic interests that marked his early career were not forgotten. Bridgman’s attention to costume and accessory, as well as to both the significant and more mundane aspects of daily life, provide a valuable record of some of the facets of Algerian culture that were, in the wake of increasing Western contact and influence, most at risk of disappearing.
Bridgman’s efforts at “salvage ethnography” were complemented by his numerous publications. These included a series of popular articles for Harper’s Monthly Magazine in 1888, and his subsequent memoir of travel, Winters in Algeria (1890). In that volume, the artist described many of the events that had already begun to appear in his Algerian paintings, including one related to this work:
"Before mounting our horses we desired to see something of the interior life of Tolga [a date-growing municipality in Biskra Province, southeastern Algeria], and our guide took us to an interesting interior to see women weaving carpets, ornaments haïks, blankets, and horse-coverings. This manufacture was one of the principal industries of the locality, for I doubt whether the wheat and date crops were abundant enough to promote much commercial enterprise. All these villages seemed to consume their own scanty produce. The woven articles, however, were beautifully made, and sold at good prices. At an upright loom were seated two women working in the most primitive manner possible; while one of them unwound the skeins of wool and prepared them for convenience, the other woman passed the end of the thread through the upright strings of the woof, which were spread apart by a long and movable bamboo. She did not pass it with a shuttle, which goes like lightning in our modern inventions, but with her fingers; and when she had passed the thread several times, leaving it loose instead of pulling it through tightly, a large iron comb was used to pack it down. This loose placing of the thread accounts for the thickness and irregularity which we notice in all Eastern rugs; whereas the machine-made imitations of Oriental carpets look thin, papery, and poor in substance" (p. 253).
Several of the details that Bridgman describes are illustrated in Dans une ville de campagne Alger, where they are combined with a series of picturesque motifs, and are repeated in other compositions featuring weaving or embroidery. (This category of works began with Bridgman’s Daughters of the Orient in 1882.) As a group, these images create a self-reflexive genre that, though it recalls some of the most common tropes of late nineteenth-century Orientalist painting, is made entirely Bridgman’s own.
Typical of the artist’s outdoor harem and weaving scenes is the gazelle resting in the background, a longstanding metaphor for female beauty in Arab culture and an oblique reference to the domesticized harems and intriguing cross-cultural narratives of one of his mentors, the British painter John Frederick Lewis, and the arched doorway, white-washed walls, intricate tile work, and elegantly twisted columns of North African architecture. Familiar too are the orange tree, the ornate brass table set with delectable fruits (in this instance, plump grapes and meltingly sweet, ripe figs), the carefully selected bouquet of flowers, each one with a symbolic meaning, and the bubbling courtyard fountain. The bare feet of the unveiled women and the figure of the black female servant – a study in excess, swathed as she is in richly colored garments and dangling an orange peel from her lips - were also hallmarks of Bridgman’s compositions, and of contemporary harem paintings as well. Taken together, such vignettes were meant to suggest the titillation of the five senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing – and the sexual viability and availability of the women portrayed. In Bridgman’s hands, however, such conventional interpretations are complicated, if not firmly denied. The presence of the small boy, his hair shaved into a topknot in a fashion that dates back to Ancient Egypt, the active engagement of the seated woman with the loom, and the casual freedom with which she moves (in addition to her slippers, she has removed her anklet and hung it on the edge of her device), instructs the viewer in the woman’s position as part of an intimate family unit and a diligent if free-spirited worker, rather than as a lusty courtesan. (Bridgman’s habitual pairing of a very young boy with his mother, in isolation or as part of a conversational group, may be poignantly biographical as well: the artist lost his father at the age of three and, perhaps consequently, seldom included a male figure in his domestic scenes.) The voluminous folds of the woman’s white robes are similarly benign: rather than accentuating the curvature of her bowed form, they both provide the artist with an opportunity to display his technical prowess and invite a comparison with classical Roman and Greek garb. As in much of Bridgman’s prose, the figure of the Algerian woman is depicted here with remarkable dignity and grace – and, one cannot help but feel, in these days of intensifying colonial interaction, with a sense of nostalgia and urgency as well.

La imagen puede contener: 4 personas

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