A pilgrimage to Palestine, Sinai signed 'HJSoulen' (lower right) oil on canvas 86.4 x 76.2cm (34 x 30in)
PROVENANCE: From the estate of the Artist to his son Henry Herman Soulen To Henry Soulen's wife, Harriet Soulen Property of Harriet Soulen, Maine Sale, Baridoff Galleries Portland, Maine, 7 August 2009, lot 106 Private collection, USA
The American artist, Henry James Soulen, who was born in 1888 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, enjoyed a long and active career as a painter and illustrator for a number of magazines and esteemed publications. He studied at the Milwaukee Art Institute and the Chicago Institute, and spent two years as the pupil of Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware. More than two thousand of Soulen's paintings would appear as covers and illustrations for magazines such as National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies Home Journal and Country Gentlemen, ranging in subject matter from early genre art of the twentieth century, to Asian and religious motifs.
He exhibited his work in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, and among other awards, Soulen won a popular poll for his Winter Scene at the Art in Advertising Exhibition in 1941. He went on to teach occasional classes and specialized courses at the University of Maryland, and throughout the Second World War and post-war years Soulen led art classes for wounded military members at the U.S.O in Phoenixville and the Valley Forge Army Hospital.
Soulen spent several months traveling through the Middle East as the accompanying artist to Dr. Harry Emerson Frosdick who wrote A Pilgrimage to Palestine for the Christmas issue of The Ladies Home Journal. It was during that trip that Soulen painted the present work, A pilgrimage to Palestine, Sinai and fragments of his letter that accompanied sketches sent while overseas were quoted in Frosdick's article:
"A number of persons told me, before I left America, that I would be disappointed by the artistic possibilities of Palestine. They agreed that it was burned up and uninteresting. I am quite sure now they hadn't seen much of the real country. In the cities, including Jerusalem, familiarity with tourists has made the natives more or less uninteresting. But, in the villages and in the wilderness, conditions are as they were thousands of years ago. You will see acres of wheat in the fertile valleys to be reaped with a sickle. The costumes are the same...It is only because we judge Bible stories by our own standards that any of them sound improbable. After my experience of living in the desert, I have begun to understand these stories."
Falling under the spell of a 'timeless zone' that the Orient seemed to boast to westerners was not unique to Soulen, yet his depictions are less romantic than his European peers. His bright, bold coloring and focus on the natural world, such as the majestic mountains behind the travelers or the tents strung up for the pilgrims in Hajj camp, en route to the Masjid al-Haram, display his talents as an illustrator concerned with narrative rather than an artist employing artifice. His figures are realistic and involved with their surroundings, not merely decorations against imagined compositions. Soulen, with his illustrative gifts, was employed to document his travels, and the influence of the wealth of sketches and work he executed along the way is expertly illustrated in these two paintings.