In the present work, painted at the height of Gérôme’s long and prolific career, the artist demonstrates his unique ability to combine the fields of ethnography, costume study, and penetrating portraiture.
ProvenancePossibly, Goupil & cie, Paris (acquired directly from the artist, as Fumeur albanais, November 19, 1881 for 15,000 francs, inv. no. 15757)
Knoedler & co, New York (acquired from the above, February 4, 1882 for 28,000 francs, inv. no. 3758)
Ayer, Josephine Mellen Southwick, New York (acquired from the above, December 14, 1882 for 7,500 dollars)
(Possibly) Mr. Mackay, 1882 (acquired from Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Exposition internationale de la peinture, organisée par un groupe d’artistes, première année, 1882, no. 14)
Private Collection, New York Sale: Parke-Bernet, New York, January 12, 1955, lot 40 (as The Harem Guard)
(Possibly) Schweitzer Gallery, New York, between 1960 and 1975
Andrew Sordoni, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Andrew Sordoni III, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (by descent from the above until 1981)
The Fine Art Society, Ltd., London, 1983
Sale: Christie’s, New York, October 31, 2001, lot 10, illustrated Private Collection, United Kingdom (until 2003)
Private Collection, California
Exhibited(Possibly) Paris, Galerie George Petit, Exposition internationale de la peinture, organisée par un groupe d’artistes, première année, 1882, no. 14 (as Bachi-Bazouk)
Dayton, Ohio, The Dayton Art Institute; Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Art; and Baltimore, Maryland, Walters Art Gallery, Jean Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), 1972-3, no. 17 (incorrectly dated ca. 1861)
Washington, D.C., Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 19th century Orientalist paintings from the Collection of Terence Garnett, November 8-30, 2007, no. 2 (as An Albanian Smoking)
Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gérôme and the Lure of the Orient, 2014 (as An Albanian Smoking)
Literature(Possibly) Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], Gérôme, A Collection of the Works of J.-L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, New York, 1881-83, n.p)
(Possibly) Fanny Field Hering, The Life and Works of Jean- Léon Gérôme, New York, 1892, p. 242 (as Arnaut Chief)
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris, 1986, p. 249, no. 304 (as whereabouts unknown), illustrated p. 109 (color), illustrated p. 249, no. 304 (black and white)
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, His Life, His Work, Paris, 1997, p. 114, illustrated
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme: monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 304, no. 304, illustrated p. 119 (color)
Luan Rama, Les Albanais de Léon Gérôme / Shqiptarët e Léon Gérôme, Albania, 2016
Considered the greatest and most knowledgeable Orientalist painter of the nineteenth century, Jean-Léon Gérôme regularly created series of works that examined and perfected a single theme. Among the most memorable of these artistic investigations was his documentation of the colorful figure of the Arnaut, or Albanian soldier, silhouetted against an austere backdrop and engaging in a subdued or noncombatant act. In the present work, painted at the height of Gérôme’s long and prolific career, the artist demonstrates his unique ability to combine the fields of ethnography, costume study, and penetrating portraiture. The similarity of this subject with other pictures in Gérôme’s oeuvre, moreover, creates an intriguing dialogue between his painted surfaces and offers a compelling example of his inimitable, and profoundly personal, Orientalist style.
Gérôme’s interest in recording ethnic types was sparked long before his Eastern travels, during a trip down the Danube in 1854. Three years later, viewing some of the works that this voyage had inspired, the noted critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) praised the artist for his “ethnographic veracity,” and suggested that his paintings should be utilized by scholars: “M. Serres, the anthropologist would be able to consult with absolute certainty these specimens of unrecorded race,” (“Salon de 1857 IV,” l’Artiste, July 5, 1857, p. 246). So too, Gautier continued, Gérôme should be commended for fulfilling contemporaries’ passion for precise and reliable information about the human race: “M. Gérôme satisfies one of the most demanding instincts of the age: the desire which people have to know more about each other than that which is revealed in imaginary portraits."
Gérôme’s “mission” was confirmed and amplified during the course of his Eastern travels. In the cosmopolitan setting of Cairo, a city visited by the artist on numerous occasions in the 1860s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, Gérôme set his ethnographic sights on the Arnauts, descendants of the Albanian soldiers brought to Egypt by the Pasha Muhammad ‘Ali (ca. 1769-1849, r. 1805-48), and Ottoman irregular mercenaries, known colloquially as bashi-bazouks (literally “damaged head,” meaning leaderless or without discipline). These military subjects were decorative remnants of a force that Muhammad ‘Ali had decimated years before, in an effort to consolidate his power. Paul Lenoir, who accompanied Gérôme on two of his master’s tours of Egypt (in 1868 and 1881, during which time he died in Cairo), described these men in his journal:
"Their costumes artistically open at the breast, their arms “de luxe” as brilliant as inoffensive, their proud and disdainful attitudes, their least gestures, everything about them seems to have been most carefully studied. Nothing, however, is more natural than these interminable moustaches “à la grecque,” which cut their visages in two like the two enormous horns of the buffalo, and which form the most appropriate ornament of these energetic faces, bronzed in the sun. The moustache, which has nothing Arab in its principle, is with the soldier of Cairo a sign of Albanese origin . . . It was an innovation in a land in which the beard is held in the highest esteem, and where the respect which is due to a man is measured by the length of this hirsute ornament. Soldier, en amateur, however, he acquits himself of his role with care; and he has become the indispensable furniture of the door of a mosque or of the entrance to a palace. He is like the “Swiss,” [Swiss guards outside of the Vatican] the chasseur of our ancestors, but having instead of the halbert about ten or a dozen weapons, sabers and pistols, artistically intercrossed in the compartments of a vast girdle of red leather, which gives him the aspect of one of the show-windows of the Divisme on the boulevard Haussmann." (quoted in “Arnaut of Cairo,” in Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], Gérôme, A Collection of the Works of J.-L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, New York, 1881-83, n.p).
The impotence of these once ferocious figures was not lost on Gérôme. In several of his pictures, weapons are hung on walls as decorative ornaments, often mimicking the postures of the subjects themselves, who are shown in moments of unprepared and even drugged relaxation. In this image, however, Gérôme seems to walk a finer line between respectfulness and mockery: The importance and station of the figure is suggested by his richly colored green and gold turban, and by his conspicuous display of guns and daggers. Despite the voluminous frills of his distinctive skirt, moreover, seemingly sculptured out of sunlight and shadow, and his bare feet and casual pose – a state of relaxation underscored by the presence of a hookah or smoking pipe - the man’s tight sleeves indicate a strong musculature, and his arrogant stare is more calculating than glassy-eyed.
The remarkable precision of Gérôme’s depiction suggests a first-hand knowledge, but it also reveals the vast library of resources the artist had compiled by 1881. The Arnaut skirt may be the earliest use of a new property in Gérôme’s large costume collection; from the mid 1860’s the artist had painted this distinctive attire, but the first skirt he owned and used as a model was far less ample. Gérôme’s large photographic collection was also evidently in play: The Musée d’Orsay houses several of the artist’s personal photographs of a model in Arnaut costume, adopting similar poses in the courtyard of a house. As with so many of Gérôme’s subjects, this ethnographic component, coupled with a gloss of sardonic humor over the artist’s inimitable, highly polished academic style, appealed to American collectors in the late nineteenth century and, given the provenance of this work, into the twentieth and twenty-first as well.
This catalogue note was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.