Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935) Early morning, Id el-fitr 45 1/4 x 62 1/2in (115 x 158.7cm)

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Lot 48W
Ludwig Deutsch
(Austrian, 1855-1935)
Early morning, Id el-fitr 45 1/4 x 62 1/2in (115 x 158.7cm)

US$ 250,000 - 350,000£ 200,000 - 270,000
Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935)
Early morning, Id el-fitr
signed, inscribed and dated 'L. Deutsch Le Caire 1902' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45 1/4 x 62 1/2in (115 x 158.7cm)


  • Provenance
    Private collection, acquired in Cairo circa 1915;
    Bequeathed to Jewish Family and Children's Services, San Francisco;
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 2000.

    Despite the startling clarity of his pictures, the details of Ludwig Deutsch's life remain elusive and vague. Brought up in Vienna, he studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste before moving to Paris in 1878. There he befriended several Orientalist artists, including Arthur von Ferraris, Jean Discart, and his lifelong friend Rudolf Ernst. It is likely that he studied with the French history painter Jean-Paul Laurens prior to his participation in the Société des Artistes Français from 1879 to 1925; his other instructors and mentors, however, are unknown. (Deutsch's first Orientalist works appeared in 1881, well before his inaugural trip to Egypt and the Middle East. It is possible that he was influenced early on in Paris by the widely circulating pictures of Jean-Léon Gérôme.) In 1898, Deutsch earned an honorable mention at the Société's annual Salon, and, in 1900, just two years before the present work was painted, he was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle. Later, having established himself as the center of an entire school of Austrian Orientalist painting, he would receive the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. In 1919, Deutsch gained French citizenship and, after a brief absence, began exhibiting again under the name "Louis Deutsch." (It is assumed that Deutsch left France during the First World War due to the official hostilities between France and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He may also have ventured to North Africa at this time.) In an effort to stay current and revive what was now a waning genre, Deutsch's technique in the years after 1910 began to change; his late pictures hovered between the highly detailed, polished surfaces for which he – and several other Orientalist painters – had become renowned, and the looser brushwork and more highly keyed palette of Post-Impressionism.

    Throughout this long and varied career, Deutsch consciously avoided the picturesque and anecdotal qualities that marked so many contemporary Orientalist works, and chose instead a far broader and more modern approach. Drawing from all aspects of Middle Eastern life – especially Egyptian – and isolating and scrutinizing particular moments in time, Deutsch's paintings are today seen as verging on the cinematic, with all the spectacular and static qualities of a promotional film still. (Deutsch's process may again have been partially indebted to the works of Gérôme, whose own paintings were often marked by both high drama and a chilling frigidity.) His intensely detailed series of guard or sentinel pictures (one of which, The Nubian Guard [private collection], was completed in this same year), bazaar scenes, and images of the local literati were facilitated by an enormous collection of photographs amassed in Cairo, many of them purchased from the well-known studio of G. Lékégian. (Deutsch also acquired hundreds of decorative objets while abroad, which furnished both his Paris studio at 11 rue Navarin and the Orientalist pictures he produced there. The tombak, or ewer, in the present work, for example, placed in a basket atop the woman's head, was a favorite and oft-repeated souvenir.)

    The subject of Early Morning, 'Id el-fitr, though less common in Deutsch's oeuvre, was a familiar one in the nineteenth century, in both literature and art.1. Writing in 1885, Thomas Patrick Hughes offered the following description of the events that took place on this religious holiday, including the rituals that Deutsch refers to here:

    On one or more days of this festival [" 'Idu 'L-Fitr"], some or all of the members of most families, but chiefly the women, visit the tombs of their relatives. This they also do on the occasion of the other grand festival. ["Idu 'l-Azha"] The visitors, or their servants, carry palm branches2, and sometimes sweet basil, to lay upon the tomb which they go to visit. The palm-branch is broken into several pieces, and these, or the leaves only, are placed on the tomb.
    Numerous groups of women are seen on these occasions, bearing palm-branches, on their way to the cemeteries in the neighborhood of the metropolis. They are also provided, according to their circumstances, with cakes, bread, dates, or some other kind of food, to distribute to the poor who resort to the burial-ground on these days. Sometimes tents are pitched for them; the tents surround the tombs which is the object of the visit

    In addition to Hughes' concise account, Deutsch would have had many other sources from which to draw. His personal library included several volumes detailing the intricacies of Egyptian culture, many of them illustrated by his compatriots and peers. Indeed, the drawings by Leopold Carl Müller (1834-1892) in Georg Ebers' Egypt: Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque, published in German in 1878 and translated into English a few years after, may have inspired aspects of Deutsch's composition4. So too, contemporary photographs and popular illustrated newspapers – often used by Deutsch as references for his paintings - may have aided the artist in the creation of this image, either directly or in mood 5 (Fig. 1). Unique to Deutsch, however, are the brilliant color scheme (note how the red of the young girl's dress is mirrored by the close-fitting caps of the seated men and the rose petals strewn along the ground) and the subtle symbolism of the scene. The fragility of the flowers (a common adornment for tombs during special ceremonies) may be meant as a reminder of the brevity of life and, in the juxtaposition of Arab children and well-worn tombstones, the continuity of Egyptian culture and the circle of life are pointedly suggested.
    Deutsch's interest in the distinctive form of the Arab tomb and tombstone may be gauged by the repetition of the motif in another important painting of the period. The enduring popularity of such subjects among his contemporaries, moreover, extended far beyond Deutsch's adopted Parisian home; the present work was acquired in Cairo more than a decade after it was painted, perhaps during Deutsch's return to the region during World War I.

    We are grateful to Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D., for writing this cataloguing note.

    1 'Id el-fitr, or "feast to break the fast," is an important annual Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. On this festive day, a celebratory meal is had, ending the month-long period of fasting.
    The sheer number of cemetery (Arabic, maqbara) scenes in Orientalist art is striking: Jean-Léon Gérôme, Carl Haag (1820-1915), William James Müller (1812-1845), and Amedeo Preziosi (1816-1882) were just a few of the many artists who tackled this subject. In these works, Shaykh's tombs are often prominently featured, the domed silhouettes of which provide much architectural interest. Though not made the focus of the composition, in the middle of Deutsch's picture, in the distant background, the dome of one such structure may be discerned.

    2 Palm branches were richly significant in Islamic culture; in ancient Egypt they symbolized immortality. Their presence in this exotic image would have brought a sense of familiarity to European Christian viewers, for whom palms also held special meaning.
    3 Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, London, 1885, p. 196.
    4 Ebers (1837-1898) was a German archaeologist and novelist. Müller would contribute several illustrations to various editions of his book beginning in 1878.
    Perhaps the most influential publications for Orientalist artists during the nineteenth century were Edward William Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London, 1836) and Owen Jones's The Grammar of Ornament (London, 1856). Deutsch is known to have referenced both of these in the details and subjects of his compositions. (In Lane's volume, an image of an Arab tomb and tombstone is included [p. 524], along with a detailed description of its structure and use [p. 522].)

    5 There were numerous cemeteries in and around Cairo which Deutsch may have visited or known and referenced here. Among the most widely photographed and illustrated were the Arab cemetery near the Bâb en-Naṣr and the "Southern Cemetery," or Qarafa, extending south of the Citadel near the mosque of Ibn Tulun.
    The sobriety of Deutsch's composition would have been shared by members of the Orientalist community at this time: 1902 saw the deaths of James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), and Frederick Goodall (1822-1904) declared bankruptcy in this year.
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