Promenade on an Indian Street signed 'E.L. Weeks' (lower left) oil on canvas 60.9 x 47cm (24 x 18 1/2in). Painted in the mid-1880s.
PROVENANCE Sale, Christie's New York, 27 May 1993, lot 249 Purchased from the above by the present owner
In 1895, Edwin Lord Weeks, having already gained considerable acclaim as an Orientalist painter, wrote and illustrated a book of his travels, From the Black Sea through Persia and India, which was followed by Episodes in Mountaineering two years later. Given his extensive travels through out the region, it is no wonder that India plays a prominent role in the work of Weeks. In 1877, following the successful sale of his works in the Noyes and Blakeslee Gallery in Boston, Weeks prepared to finance a voyage to India. During that eventual trip in 1883, according to his letters, Weeks spent every day painting and every night developing his photographs believed to record and capture architectural backgrounds for his compositions, much like in the present work, Promenade on an Indian Street, which was inspired by that first visit.
Weeks would return to India in 1892, commissioned by Harper's magazine, and accompanied by the journalist, Theodore Child, who was to write a series of articles about their travels no doubt of interest to the American reader. Given the exhaustive journey overland, Weeks and Child planned on taking the Trans Caspian railway to Samarqand and onward to Afghanistan, but an outbreak of cholera in the northern Russian provinces thwarted them to instead follow the ancient caravan route from Trebizond on the Black Sea across to Kurdistan. After a lengthy and somewhat dangerous journey, Weeks finally arrived in India where he would spend the next two years.
Upon returning home to Paris, Weeks and his paintings of Indian life awarded him celebrity status both in France and America. The subject became his specialty, no surprise given his mastery depicting the majestic to the domestic. In Promenade on an Indian Street, it is easy for the viewer to imagine the wealth of inspiration Weeks had to draw from during his time abroad. Typically, paintings of this size executed by Weeks first started as architectural compositions painted in situ, while figures were included later on in the studio. This splendid rendering of the every day street scene is made more dramatic with the presence of the caparisoned elephant and its' rider heralding perhaps a more important procession to come. Elephants, integral members of traditional life in parts of India, are revered in sacred culture and often decorated for religious processions and state affairs, such as the elephant dressed in silver plate seen here.
The beautifully carved balconies casting a shadow on the girls in their jade and crimson saris juxtaposed against the old man bathed in sunlight as he converses expertly illustrates Weeks's understanding of color and placement. His use of depth creates a moving image, from the elephant's bent leg to the Sikh nobles or soldiers walking in front, brandishing their swords. The presence of the girl with a gold earring about to casually pass by the procession in the foreground injects reality into the work; the elephant is a fact of life, exotic to outsiders, perhaps, but just another character on the promenade. The result is a rich narrative of the artist's knowledge and extensive time in the region, while retaining a sense of balance in an otherwise busy environment.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisoneé on Weeks by Dr. Ellen K. Morris.