Egyptian caravan signed 'E.L. Weeks' (lower right) oil on canvas 45.72 x 76.2cm (18 x 30in).
Edwin Lord Weeks is one of the most distinguished and celebrated painters among the American Orientalists. Born in Boston in 1849 to affluent tea and spice merchants, Weeks showed a youthful interest in painting and travel beginning with trips to the Florida everglades and Surinam in South America. At the age of 21, Weeks opened a studio in Newton, a suburb of Boston, and the following year accompanied by his friend, the illustrator A.P Close, he traveled to Egypt, the Holy Land and Damascus, Syria. His sketchbooks boasted an abundance of North African scenes, setting a trend for his body of work and journeys abroad for years to come. Losing Close to a fever in Beirut, where the illustrator was buried, Weeks painted a scene depicting the port of Tangiers, dated 1872, and is believed to be one of his first Orientalist works.
A well-received collection of Weeks's work exhibited at the Boston Art Club just after his return to Newton led to the declaration of his new subject matter by Boston journals, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript even announcing his planned season in Paris and return to the Orient to study and work in 1874. When Weeks arrived in Paris with his wife, he attempted to enroll at the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme, the celebrated Orientalist, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While waiting for his acceptance, Weeks began to work in the private atelier of Léon Bonnat, a good friend and travel companion of Gérôme's in North Africa. Weeks absorbed the style of his new teacher, and Bonnat, a passionate Realist painter, encouraged the method of working en plein air on his students, ideal training for ethnographic painters.
Though the exact details of his extensive travels are not well-documented, it is known that Weeks returned to Cairo in the spring of 1875 and traveled to Morocco the following autumn. The bulk of the artist's uvre tended to reflect his later travels to India and the Middle East beyond the Nile, which is what makes the present painting, Egyptian caravan, so special. The work depicts a camel caravan en route, along perhaps one of the smaller subsidiary structures associated with the Pyramid of Menkaure, belonging to the famous pyramids at Giza, and illustrates Weeks's talent for capturing majestic scenes possibly executed on site or drawn from his generous wealth of sketches.
Located on the outskirts of Cairo, the pyramids at Giza include the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the previously described Pyramid of Menkaure, along with smaller satellite edifices known as the "Queen's pyramids," and the Great Sphinx. Giza was popularized in antiquity when the Great Pyramid was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World by Antipater of Sidon, and continues to be a popular tourist destination to the present day. Influencing the compositions of numerous Orientalist painters and photographers, the pyramids and their shape were thought to represent the primordial mound from which the earth was created, according to the Egyptians.
It is generally agreed that the pyramids were built as burial monuments, indicated by their location on the west bank of the Nile, the site of the setting sun, which is associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology. Less concerned with legend than the beauty of man's handiwork in the natural world, Weeks's Egyptian caravan is a stunning composition illuminating the wonders of antiquity juxtaposed against modern survival, a worthy subject of Weeks's discriminating eye for light, depth and color.
This lot depicts the Pyramid of Teti and not the Pyramids of Giza.