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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s New York To Hold The Orientalist Sale On April 18, 2008

New York, NY – On April 18, 2008, Sotheby’s New York is proud to offer The Orientalist Sale, highlighted by exceptional masterpieces covering the entire region including North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. This dedicated sale represents a retrospective of 19th century Orientalist art, presenting some of the finest examples of works by artists from America and Europe who were attracted to this area of the world. Held on the same day as the sale of 19th Century European Art, The Orientalist Sale has a separate catalogue and includes three major discoveries – rare, museum quality works – which depict the great Ottoman capitol Constantinople. These paintings, by artists Jean-Léon Gérôme, Walter Gould and Rudolf Ernst, are fresh to the market and all from American private collections. Works by Eugène Fromentin, John Frederick Lewis and Arthur von Ferraris will also be offered. Sotheby’s is the only auction house to be focusing a separate sale in this category in New York this spring and is pleased to be holding this auction again for the first time in nine years. The sale, comprised of over 90 lots, will be on exhibition in New York from April 12th through April 17th and is estimated to achieve between $7.4/10.3 million*.

Ali Can Ertug, Sotheby’s Vice President for Business Development in Turkey and Emerging Markets, a specialist in Orientalist Art who recently joined Sotheby’s, said, “This is an exciting moment to be able to offer these works in a dedicated inaugural sale of Orientalist Art in New York on April 18th. Specifically, the works by Jean-Leon Gérome, Rudolf Ernst and Walter Gould are particularly important pictures, all three of which are recently discovered and of exceptional rarity and quality. These works accurately depict scenes of Turkish life in Constantinople, the cosmopolitan capital of the Ottoman Empire, and they are ethnographically, historically and architecturally true to their subjects. Having three such exceptional works in our upcoming Sotheby’s sale of Orientalist Art is a privilege, and each of these paintings will be invaluable additions to great international Orientalist collections.”

Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, Property from the Estate of Mary O’Brien Gibson, Washington, D.C., is a major work by the most recognized Orientalist painter of the 19th century, one of only two versions, and has been lost to history until now. Estimated to sell for $1.8/2.2 million and illustrated on page 1, this work demonstrates Gérôme’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East and his profound respect for some of its most distinctive cultural traditions. In his capacity as a professor for nearly forty years at the École des Beaux-Arts, Gérôme influenced many of his students to travel to the Middle East, and his new “documentary” style of painting would establish itself as the definitive model for Orientalist painting in the second half of the 19th century.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque, located in the midst of bustling markets in Istanbul, is considered to house the 16th century Izruk tiles, and Gérôme takes great delight in recording their precise patterns. With dedication to architectural detail, the artist focuses the viewer’s attention on the mihrab of the mosque in which the blue and white tiles are most lavishly displayed. The decorously attired men in Gérôme’s picture exhibit various stages of the daily Muslim prayers, as if drawn from the pages of an instructional manual. In this picture, Gérome captured in great detail the vibrant colors and unique customs particular to this region of the Middle East.

Walter Gould’s The Public Scribe, from 1869 (est. $800,000/1.2 million), was chosen for the cover of Gerald Ackerman’s majestic American Orientalists (Paris, 1994). Works by the artist are extremely rare and are marked by an almost impossible clarity, a delicacy and precision of line, an intensity of color, and a haunting stillness that is virtually unparalleled in the genre. Gould traveled to Turkey in 1851 in order to take advantage of a potential portrait commission. The figure of the public scribe, an essential service in Turkey, which was still at mid-century a largely illiterate country, captured Gould’s attention as a subject rich in narrative potential and provided a way for the artist to portray the elusive figure of the Turkish woman. The setting of the present work is the steps of the Süleymaniye mosque; the intriguing narrative depicts the scribe sitting cross-legged, beside a beautifully ornamented wooden box, carved and inlaid with mother of pearl, whose service has been requested by two women. The placement of one woman’s hand on the shoulder of the other in Gould’s picture suggests that this is an emotional moment, for one if not both of the veiled figures, and the complex narrative continues with the background figures.

Rudolf Ernst’s The Fountain of Ahmed, III, Istanbul, from 1892, (est. $650/850,000), one of the most elaborate compositions by this artist to be offered for sale in recent years, is an outstanding example of each of the qualities for which he is most admired. In 1890, Ernst’s travels brought him to Turkey, the site of this particular scene. In this work, he focuses upon a subject of social significance, the fountain. Historically fountains were erected by nearly every important personage as the supreme act of charity. These architectural monuments soon became the favorite gathering places of the local populations, and the site of constant activity and interesting encounters.

Eugène Fromentin’s Le Simoun, Property from a Distinguished East Coast Collection (est. $300/400,000), may be one of several smaller versions of Fromentin’s extraordinary painting of 1864, the Coup de vent dans les plaines d’alfa (Windstorm on the Esparto Plains of the Sahara). Such evocative scenes were the result of first-hand experiences; Fromentin was one of the first major artists to spend extended periods of time in Algeria after the defeat of Emir Abd al-Qadir at the hands of the French in the 1840’s. The tempered palette, rolling storm clouds, and slate-gray sky witnessed in many of the artist’s mature compositions reflect his attempt to explore the subtleties of the monochromatic landscape, as well as his lifelong appreciation of Dutch painting and the later works of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

A watercolor painting, Greetings in the Desert by John Frederick Lewis, R.A. (est. $500/800,000), is one of the most important Orientalist watercolors by John Frederick Lewis to be offered for sale in recent years. Typical of this acclaimed British painter are the exquisite rendering of incidental detail, the compelling evocation of brilliant sunlight, and the engaging subject matter depicting a moment of exchange or encounter. Set in the Middle East, the picture depicts a greeting between two Arab men, who have momentarily halted their camel caravans in the vast expanse of Egypt’s Sinai desert.

Another work in this sale depicting a scene of life in Egypt is Driving a Bargain, Cairo, from 1890, by Arthur von Ferraris (est. $500/700,000). In this work, two men bargain over a cord of red Islamic prayer beads outside the Mosque of Altinbugha al-Maridani in Cairo.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.