Arthur Melville ARSA RSW ARS (British, 1855-1904) The Snake Charmer 83 x 64 cm. (32 11/16 x 25 3/16 in.)

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Lot 8
Arthur Melville ARSA RSW ARS
(British, 1855-1904)
The Snake Charmer 83 x 64 cm. (32 11/16 x 25 3/16 in.)

Sold for £ 26,250 (US$ 33,944) inc. premium

Scottish Art

11 Oct 2017, 14:00 BST

Edinburgh

Arthur Melville ARSA RSW ARS (British, 1855-1904)
The Snake Charmer
signed and inscribed 'Arthur Melville/Bagdad' (lower left)
watercolour
83 x 64 cm. (32 11/16 x 25 3/16 in.)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sir James Bell, Provost of Glasgow (who also owned Melville's Fete of the Dosseh)
    Sir Alexander Walker KBE, Piersland, Troon (grandson of Johnnie Walker, of Walker's whisky)
    Sold on behalf of an Ayrshire Educational Trust.

    Exhibited
    London, R.W.S., 1888, cat.no.163
    Glasgow, Royal Glasgow Institute, 1889, cat.no.878
    Munich, 1891
    Glasgow, International Exhibition, 1901, cat.no.731
    London, R.I., 1906, cat.no.26
    Glasgow, R.G.I., 1907, cat.no.77
    Edinburgh, Scottish National Exhibition, 1908, cat.no.616
    Rome, International Exhibition, 1911, cat.no.513
    London, Royal Academy, 1939, cat.no.633

    Literature
    Magazine of Art, reproduced, August 1896.
    The Snake Charmer is admirable in its simplicity and effective grouping, the colour is bright but cool, and the drawing bears on the face of it distinctly the impress of being the work of one who had his knowledge at first-hand and was truly in sympathy with the life he was depicting.' (p.338)

    AE Mackay, Arthur Melville, Leigh-on-Sea, 1951, p.144 Dated by Mackay to 1883.

    It is rare to rediscover important works by major Scottish artists, and this 'lost' work has not been exhibited publicly since 1939.

    Melville's Eastern voyage took him to the city of the Arabian Nights in April 1882, where he spent six weeks at 'The Residency' and produced 'sixty big sketches' (Mackay, p.61). Unlike Cairo, which was fast becoming a tourist destination and undergoing significant modernisation, Melville was struck by Bagdad's decay and squalor. However, he found much to inspire him in the architecture, street characters, markets and city walls, employing a 'cavass' to keep the crowds at bay while he sketched.

    Snake charming is an archetypal 'Orientalist' theme, and Melville would have been well aware of these often sensationalist subjects as exhibited at the Paris Salon by luminaries like Jean Leon Gerome. Melville's treatment of the ritual, however, is altogether more neutral and restrained, avoiding the complex racial and sexual overtones inherent in the genre. An important precedent would have been his Cock Fight, Muscat, witnessed on the way to Bagdad, and in total he seems to have produced three snake charming subjects as well as a one-eyed 'calender' (beggar), water carrier and dervish.

    In the cockfight, Melville washed out the brutal focal point to concentrate on the excitement and agitation of the audience. However the mystical, hypnotic experience of a snake charmer at work warrants a much more static treatment, with greater naturalism employed in the exclusively male figures which included his brother George as foreground model (K. McConkey Adventures in Colour, NGS, 2015, p.58). The picture itself is a technical tour de force, with the artist displaying his mastery of space, tone and picture design in a large-scale exhibition piece perhaps only rivalled by Awaiting an Audience with the Pasha.
Contacts
Arthur Melville ARSA RSW ARS (British, 1855-1904) The Snake Charmer 83 x 64 cm. (32 11/16 x 25 3/16 in.)
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