Before the Great Mosque at Mathura signed 'E.L. Weeks' (lower left) and dated 'Jan. '83' (lower right) oil on canvas 76.5 x 51.5cm (30 1/8 x 20 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: Gump's, San Francisco (1906) Private collection, acquired from the above (1906 - 1993) Sale, Sotheby's New York, 27 May 1993, lot 7 Purchased from the above by present owner
EXHIBITED: New York, Vance Jordan Fine Art, Edwin Lord Weeks: Visions of India, 31 October-12 December 2002
Edwin Lord Weeks is the most celebrated American Orientalist in present day, and was also renowned during his time. He documented his voyages to East and studied in Paris under the tutelage of famed French artist Léon Bonnat. Weeks' parents were affluent spice and tea merchants from a suburb of Boston and as such, encouraged and financed their son's youthful interest in painting and travelling. As a young man he travelled to the Americas from his home in Newton to Surinam in South America. His earliest known paintings date to 1867.
Weeks continued his career as an artist and moved with his wife to Paris attempting to enrol in the École des Beaux-Arts. However, while waiting for his application to be accepted, he started to work at the private atelier of Bonnat, a close friend of Jean Leon Gérôme who had also travelled with him in North Africa. When Weeks was finally granted admission to Gérôme's atelier in September 1874, he declined the offer and decided to continue his work with Bonnat.
Bonnat, a young painter himself, was considered a Realist. His teaching methods were somewhat radical compared to those of the teachers at the École and he expected his students to paint as well as to draw, placing less importance in the study of the details of human form and more on the whole body as an idealized subject. It is thought that Weeks stayed with him for about a year-and-a-half and that he doubtlessly absorbed the realist style of depicting a subject's characteristics and also the methods of working out of doors or en plein air to study the effects of natural light and shadow, as illustrated in the present lot.
Weeks travelled what seemed to be the entirety of the Orient. But it was on a trip to the Persian villages of Tabriz, Isfahan and Shiraz where Weeks encountered the cholera epidemic, forcing him to take the first steam ship out of the country to India. He spent two years in India before returning home to Paris, studying, painting and immersing himself into the Indian culture. His paintings of Indian life gave him celebrity both in France and America and they became his specialty.
The present work was painted during Weeks' first trip to India, as indicated by the use of the circular device with his signatures. The architectural elements were painted in situ and the figures were added later at his studio in Paris. This is an impressive and unconventional fact considering the large size of the canvas.
The present lot is similar in subject to another well-known work by the artist, Royal Elephant at the Gateway to the Jami Masjid, Mathura. Both works depict the monumental stairway and gate of the Jami Masjid, or Great Mosque, of Mathura, known in Weeks' time as 'Muttra'. The detail with which Weeks painted the mosque is true to life, while the colours he employs are gem-like and remain to true to the exotic appeal of the land.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Weeks by Dr. Ellen K. Morris,