The peacock fan signed 'FA Bridgman' and dated '1876' (lower right) oil on canvas 28 3/4 x 23 1/2in (73 x 59.8cm)
EXHIBITED: New York, Hammer Galleries, The Goddess and the Slave, 7 June - 17 July 1977
Born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1847, Frederick Arthur Bridgman began his career as a draughtsman in New York City while a student at the Brooklyn Art Association and the National Academy of Design. In 1866 he traveled to Paris, where he would later settle, and entered the studio of the renowned academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (18241904) in 1867, where he would spend the next four years. Gérôme's exquisite precision, concern for color and reliance on Middle Eastern and Orientalist themes deeply influenced Bridgman, who had originally planned to return to America as a genre painter. Bridgman's first trips to North Africa between 1872 and 1874 saw him divide his time between Egypt and Algeria and return with hundreds of sketches that laid the groundwork for his larger paintings of courtyard, street and interior scenes, such as the present lot, The peacock fan.
In this work, a languid beauty rests upon a mound of green pillows, toying with a delicately feathered fan between her slender fingers. Her gaze, though heavy lidded, casts an authoritative look on the viewer, a knowing smile beginning to form on her painted lips. No doubt, Bridgman's own collection of costume pieces and regional dress which he had acquired on his travels influenced the present subject's Ottoman-esque 'indoor' ensemble of gauzy veils, coin-laden jewelry, crimson jacket and brocade vest. Unlike other subjects that dominated the work of his contemporaries, Bridgman's model is modestly, though no less lavishly, attired. She leaves room for the European imagination that was fascinated by the primal and pseudo-sexual depictions of odalisques and concubines found in the Paris salon, which perpetuated the myth of the Middle East as the exotic and dangerous 'other' up until the twentieth century.
In 1889, Bridgman had five works displayed in the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a noted mark in his venerated career as one of the most important American Orientalist painters. He was later made an Officer of the French Legion of Honor as well as a member of the National Academy of Design.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Bridgman being prepared by Ilene Susan Fort, Ph.D, Senior Curator and The Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
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