The Moorish merchant signed and inscribed 'J. Discart Paris' (lower right) oil on panel 33 x 20.3cm (13 x 8in).
PROVENANCE: With Alex Fraser Gallery, Vancover The Estate of Clarence Saba, Vancover (as A Moorish curio dealer) Sale, Sotheby's New York, 4 November 2010, lot 8 A private collection
Remarkably little is known about the career of the extremely gifted French painter, Jean Discart. He was born in the Italian city of Modena in 1856 and enrolled in a history of painting course at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at the age of seventeen. The course was taught by the famous German classical painter, Anselm Feuerbach (1829-1880), and among Discart's fellow students were Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935) and Karl Merode (1853-1909). After Feuerbach retired from the academy, Discart, Deutsch and Merode applied to study under Leopold Carl Müller, who refused them admittance. This prompted Discart and Deutsch to travel to Paris where they were no doubt immersed in the cosmopolitan art world, surrounded by their contemporaries. Perhaps it was the combined influences of his classical training in Vienna with his Parisian exposure that led to an interesting career for Discart who focused on Orientalist works.
Discart first exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1884 and painted Orientalist subjects through to the 1920s, rendering work exquisite in their detail, richness and understanding of light and texture. Much like his contemporary, Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932), Discart's compositions incorporated the heavy use of artifacts such as metal ware, pottery, textiles and instruments, set against elaborate backdrops of sculpted stone, painted tiles or carved woodwork. The temptation to bring back found treasures from their travels was deeply felt by the Orientalists, who desired to fill their studios and homes with artifacts illustrating the craftsmanship of the East as a source of inspiration for paintings executed off-site.
In the present work, The Moorish merchant, Discart's masterful rendering of detail with each brushstroke captures the intricacies of the hawker's possessions, from the engraved basin housing an oud, a late Indian or Iranian Qajar helmet, and three swords, to the reflective light on the mother-of-pearl inlaid table which the basin rests on. A brass ewer lies at the feet of the merchant who is dressed in a red fez and heavy striped kaftan like those worn traditionally by the Berbers. The backdrop of a beautifully carved wooden door framed by worked turquoise tile with Islamic script or designs create a dramatic mise-en-scène to house the imagination of the artist, who most likely painted this work in Paris rather than the proposed North Africa, given the signature.