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“Women of Algiers” by Eugène Delacroix

"Women of Algiers in their Apartment" by Eugène Delacroix

“Women of Algiers” by Eugène Delacroix

“Women of Algiers” by Eugène Delacroix depicts four women enclosed in a luxuriously decorated room. The three seated women are richly adorned with billowing garments and jewelry.

The standing woman is a black slave who looks over her shoulder as she walks away to perform her duties. Delacroix carefully detailed the women’s clothing, adornments, and the room’s decor.

This realistic detail was possible due to his 1832 trip to Algeria and the many sketches and notes he made during these travels.

In 1832, Delacroix traveled to North Africa in the company of a diplomat, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria.

Delacroix eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa.

The people and the costumes entranced Delacroix, and the trip would inform the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as in this painting. Still, generally, he encountered difficulty in finding Muslim women to pose for him because of the Muslim rules requiring that women be covered.

This painting has been applauded by scholars for its attempted the ethnographic depiction of clothed females and its avoidance of the objectifying titles such as odalisque or harem.

Delacroix did not depict an overtly eroticized version of the Oriental female, as other artists did, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting “Grande Odalisque.”

Although there is realism to evoke the oriental imagination, the work has no narrative. The women are not engaging with one another.

The stare of the women on the left reflects hostility towards the invasion of her private space. There is no depiction of the social customs of the harems of Algerian culture.

With the exposed a low neckline on a woman’s dress, loose clothing, and languid poses, Delacroix’s subjects are situated in the European oriental imagination.

The addition of Orientalist motifs, such as the narghile pipe, charcoal burner, all creates a fictional image of the harem.

The nineteenth-century European viewer’s connotations of the “narghile pipe” with the smoking of hashish or opium, as well as the connotations of the loose clothing all, added to this Western fantasy of the Middle East.

Paul Cezanne described Delacroix’s intoxicating color as:

“All this luminous color… It seems to me that it enters the eye like a glass of wine running into your gullet, and it makes you drunk straight away.”

Delacroix’s Orientalist paintings have inspired many artists of later generations. In 1888 both Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin traveled to view his Oriental art.

This painting served as a source of inspiration to the later impressionists, and a series of paintings and drawings by Pablo Picasso.

Women of Algiers in their apartment by the French painter Eugene Delacroix

Narghile or Hookah

A narghile is an oriental tobacco pipe with a long tube that draws the smoke through water. It is also called a hookah.

A hookah is a single- or multi-stemmed instrument for vaporizing and smoking flavored cannabis, tobacco, or opium, whose vapor is passed through a water glass base before inhalation.

The origin of the hookah was either in Mughal India or Persia, from where it eventually spread to the east and the Indian subcontinent. In the Arab world and the Middle East, people smoked waterpipes as part of their culture and traditions.

The nargile became part of Turkish culture from the 17th century. It became prominent in society and was used as a status symbol.

“The Women of Algiers” by Eugène Delacroix (1834)

  • Title:                       The Women of Algiers
  • French:                   Les Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement
  • Artist:                     Eugène Delacroix
  • Date:                       1834
  • Media:                    oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:           Height: 180 cm (70.8″); Width: 229 cm (90.1″)
  • Museum:                Louvre Museum

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“Women of Algiers in their Apartment” by Eugène Delacroix (1847)

"Women of Algiers in their Apartment" by Eugène Delacroix

“Women of Algiers in their Apartment” by Eugène Delacroix (1847)

“Women of Algiers” or the more extended title “Women of Algiers in their Apartment” is the title of two paintings by Eugène Delacroix. Delacroix’s first version of Women of Algiers was painted in Paris in 1834.

This second work was painted about fifteen years later. Both works depict the same scene, but the two paintings evoke different moods through the depiction of the women.

Delacroix’s previous work created a separation between the women and the viewer. The second painting invites the viewer into the scene through the warm, inviting gaze of the woman and the subdued lighting.

In this composition, the women are depicted as smaller figures and fade back into the background. The melody of warm tones blends to create a dreamlike abstraction.

The barely visible black slave is now lifting away the curtain to reveal the seated women to the viewer. The woman on the left wears a lower plunging neckline showing her low neckline and cleavage. She stares softly at the viewer with an alluring gaze.

This later version suggests more nostalgia with the influence of time. The European concept of the harem further embeds itself in this work, creating a painting that eroticizes the women to a greater extent than the original version.

Orientalism

In art history, Orientalism is the depiction of aspects in the Eastern world. These depictions are usually from Western artists depicting “the Middle East” as one of the many specialties of 19th-century academic art.

Much academic discourse has used the term “Orientalism” to refer to a general patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian, and North African societies.

During the 19th century, artists were described as Orientalists, especially in France, where the French Society of Orientalist Painters was founded in 1893.

The formation of the Society changed the consciousness of practitioners since artists could now see themselves as part of a distinct art movement.

Art historians tend to identify two broad types of Orientalist artists: the realists who carefully painted what they observed and those who imagined Orientalist scenes without ever leaving the studio.

French painters such as Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Jean-Léon Gérôme are widely regarded as the leading artists of the Orientalist movement.

“Women of Algiers in their Apartment” by Eugène Delacroix (1847)

  • Title:                        Women of Algiers in their Apartment
  • French:                    Les Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement
  • Artist:                      Eugène Delacroix
  • Date:                        1847
  • Media:                     oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:           111.13 x 84.14 cm,
  • Museum:                 Musee Fabre, Montpellier, France

Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix was an artist regarded as the leader of the French Romantic school. Delacroix’s use of expressive brushstrokes shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.

Dramatic and romantic content characterized the central themes, which led him to travel in North Africa in search of the exotic.

Eugène Delacroix

“The Women of Algiers” by Eugène Delacroix

A Virtual Tour of Orientalist Art

Women of Algiers

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“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
– Khalil Gibran

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Photo Credit 1)Eugène Delacroix [Public domain]; Rblake14 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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