Recitation of the Maghrib signed and dated 'Otto Pilny 1915' (lower right)
oil on canvas
80 x 120.7cm (31 ½ x 47 ½in) Painted in 1915.
Otto Pilny began his artistic education in Prague and lived in Vienna a city made synonymous with Orientalist art by the exhibited works of Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932), Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935), and Carl Leopold Müller (1834-1892) for a time before ultimately settling in Zurich. He first traveled to Egypt in 1889 and a second trip followed three years later. So enamored with the landscape, peoples and their mores, Pilny dedicated the rest of his career to painting Orientalist works, many inspired by the romance of the Bedouin lifestyle and the desert. Around 1892, his work caught the attention of King Abbas II of Egypt and Pilny was asked to decorate the Order of the Medjidije.
One of the more enduring images Pilny revisited in his paintings was that of prayer, whether practiced in groups or alone, as seen in the present work, Recitation of the Maghrib. Contrasting from his scenes of evening entertainment, many of which were executed from sketches done during his travels, Pilny captures the intensity of the spiritual against the warm tonal ranges found in nature including his trademark use of generous pinks, reds and gold. The desert glows with a sunset that seems to surge from beyond the horizon, and the kneeling figure is made nobler by the deep folds of his robe, upturned palms and eyes closed in meditation.
The maghrib prayer, from which the painting takes its title, is recited just after sunset and is the fourth of the five daily prayers performed by Muslims. The Maghrib has three obligatory rak'a, or prescribed movements and words followed during worship which can include standing, prostration or kneeling. The first two of the Maghrib are prayed aloud while the third is prayed silently, as Pilny's figure appears to be doing. Recitation of the Maghrib expertly illustrates the deep respect Pilny had for the religious customs he encountered in the Middle East and displays his visual mastery of light, color and shadow.