Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935) Respect

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Lot 41
Ludwig Deutsch
(Austrian, 1855-1935)

Sold for £ 512,750 (US$ 667,059) inc. premium
Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935)
signed, inscribed and dated 'L. Deutsch PARIS 1902' (lower left)
oil on panel
63.2 x 45.7cm (24 7/8 x 18in).


  • Provenance
    M Newman Ltd., London.
    Private collection, UK (acquired from the above circa 1970).
    Thence by descent.

    By the second half of the nineteenth century, Orientalism was at the height of its popularity. Nearly every country had established its own school of masters of the genre, with the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme leading the way. In Austria, it was Ludwig Deutsch who was the acknowledged head. The nearly photographic precision and startling clarity of his academic style, learned, perhaps, from direct exposure to the works of Gérôme during his many years in Paris, and the immediate popularity of his paintings in the Salon and among private collectors around the globe, forms an ironic counterpoint to the mystery surrounding the artist himself. Indeed, with no personal diaries, family archives, or contemporary biographer, the details of Deutsch's life can only be determined from the subjects that he painted, and in particular from such compelling works as those presented here.

    Deutsch's artistic career began in Vienna in 1872, when he attended the Akademie der Bildenden Künste. He studied with Karl Meyer and, possibly, the history painter Anselm Feuerbach, between 1875 and 1877. The following year, Deutsch arrived in Paris – the centre for both academic and Orientalist studies at the time. Among the Austrian expatriate artists he befriended there were Johann Discart, Arthur von Ferraris, and Rudolf Ernst, with whom he would remain lifelong friends. A frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salon between 1879 and 1905, Deutsch would eventually maintain two studios, one in Paris and, in his final years, one in the south of France. In early works from this period, the influence of Deutsch's first Parisian teacher, Jean-Paul Laurens, is evident; indeed, the theatricality and sense of drama that characterize Laurens' best works were qualities that Deutsch would develop and transform into his own, remarkably modern, signature style.

    Though his earliest Orientalist subjects appeared in 1881, Deutsch's first documented journeys to the Middle East were made in 1885, 1890, and 1898, when he visited Egypt. Numerous awards and honours were bestowed upon him for the works that were produced as a result of these influential travels; these included Gold Medals at the 1892 Salon and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. By 1910, Deutsch's (somewhat controversial) experimentation with a looser, Post-Impressionist style had begun, and his palette had changed and brightened dramatically. He moved away from Paris at this time as well, possibly traveling to North Africa during the political turmoil of the First World War. After 1919, and having gained French citizenship, his works were again shown at the Paris Salon, now – and until his death on 9 April 1935 - under the sobriquet "Louis" Deutsch. Deutsch's identification with the French Orientalist tradition he had long participated in – and, arguably, nearly monopolized due to the sheer number of successful works he produced - was now, it seems, complete.

    The three paintings presented here – all produced at the height of Deutsch's career and sequestered in private collections from the time of their execution until their acclaimed reappearance today – are representative of the themes and stylistic qualities for which Deutsch was and remains best known. In The Performance (lot 43), signed and dated by Deutsch in Paris in 1885, the artist illustrates an African dancer, caught mid-step during his energetic routine. Deutsch's reliance on photography to achieve such hyper-realistic effects – he is known to have frequented the well-known studio of G. Lékégian in Cairo – is here evident, as is his extraordinary skill as an ethnographer. The cowry shells adorning the waist of the dancer would, as Deutsch knew from personal experience and his virtual library of literary references, have held special meaning in Egyptian culture, as a protective against the evil eye, and the distinctive hairstyle of the man would have immediately identified him as of Nubian origin. In addition to the Description de l'Egypte (1809-29) still widely available in Paris at this time, Deutsch also drew regularly from illustrated newspapers, Edward William Lane's iconic An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London, 1836), Owen Jones's The Grammar of Ornament (London, 1856), and Georg Ebers' Egypt: Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque, published in German in 1878 and illustrated by Deutsch's compatriot and acquaintance Leopold Carl Müller.

    The musician by the dancer's side is equally remarkable. The elaborate instrument he strums is an archaic Arabic simsimiyah or kisser, bedecked with ostrich feathers, amulets, and beads, and still used in Egypt today. Deutsch's appreciation of local music is made clear through several other pictures in his oeuvre, and may have been inspired by the revival of interest in Europe in historical music and, at the same time, in 17th and 18th century Dutch genre painting. So too, Deutsch may have been capitalizing on an established and popular theme among Orientalist painters, who often portrayed male and (more commonly) female performers in the midst of their mesmerizing routines.

    The composition of Deutsch's painting – with figures silhouetted against a detailed architectural facade – was one that would be repeated in various iterations throughout his prolific career. In At the Mosque (lot 42), a picture created in 1895 and which again features a musical instrument (in this case a small crook-necked saz or ood), this motif becomes all the more striking by virtue of a blue-and-white tiled wall. The mother-of-pearl inlaid chest and ornate brazier in Deutsch's painting, with its sinuous curve of smoke perfuming the air with the scents of oud (agarwood), gáwee (benzoin resin), and kishr ambar (cascarilla bark), were favourite vignettes of the artist, and two of what would eventually become hundreds of personal souvenirs collected abroad). The topmost border of blue-and-white tiles that Deutsch depicts are inspired by those at Al-Aqsunqur (Blue) Mosque in Cairo, which Deutsch saw and painted several times during the course of his visits to Egypt a few years before. Their glossy finish is due not only to Deutsch's precise touch, but to his regular use of wooden panels, which (deliberately) gave to his pictures the jewel-like glow and polish of early Netherlandish and Northern Renaissance art.

    The sentinel who leans against this decorative display may be regarded as the single most recognizable motif in Deutsch's art. During the 1890s and 1900s, Deutsch completed a series of these protective figures, all elaborately costumed and standing guard at entrances to marble palaces, harems, and other sacrosanct spaces. (The remarkable individualization of each of these men is indebted to the numerous figurative studies that Deutsch made abroad, and to a number of African and Arab models he employed around his studios in Paris). Though the entire Austrian school of Orientalists seems to have had a fascination for such scenes (Deutsch's close friend Ernst is a notable example), it was Deutsch who dominated the field and captured the public's attention. Indeed, even so adept a painter as Gérôme could not compete with Deutsch's barrage of textures and surfaces, his exquisitely rendered and highly informative records of specific weapons and garments (note here the elaborate gold brocade and intricate striping of the man's voluminous draperies and tailored qumbaz), or the palpability of the veins and skin of his subjects' muscled arms and hands. Deutsch's ability to suggest a narrative through the subtlest of compositional manoeuvres is also evident here: In the figure of the sentinel, the formidable barriers that faced those who sought to unlock the secrets of Middle Eastern life are seemingly embodied, as is, ironically, the potential accessibility of this world. Positioned at the interstice between wall and open chamber, and lulled by song and smoke, the viewer is presented less with an obstacle to overcome, than a point of entry too seductive to resist.

    Such subtle messaging is again demonstrated in Deutsch's Respect of 1902 (lot 41), a picture which, despite its having the cinematic quality of a modern movie still, possesses a compelling personal narrative as well. The setting itself was one Deutsch likely admired and sketched on site, though certain elements have been altered for aesthetic affect. Deutsch, like many Orientalist artists, regularly exercised his artistic liberties and was fond of collage and pastiche. True to Deutsch's penchant for detail, however, the inscriptions on either side of the door are written in legible Arabic, with verses from Chapter XV (al-Hijr) of the Koran. The picturesque ablaq stonework of the building is modelled after a doorway within the 14th century complex of Sultan Barquq - during the late nineteenth century, one of the most widely visited and photographed monuments on Cairo's maze-like streets.

    It is the brush of the young man's lips against the hand of the stately figure beside him, however, that alludes to Deutsch's own beliefs and preoccupations at the time. Having already confirmed his position as the premier painter of Arab guards, ethnographic types, and scenes of everyday Egyptian life, Deutsch embarked on a new theme in the late 1890s – that of the Arab literati and scholars of the Koran. Pensive images of letter-writers, scribes, and the 'ulama (specialists in Islam and Islamic law) abound in Deutsch's mature paintings, a reflection of both the importance that literacy had in the region since the reforms of the Egyptian Pasha Muhammad 'Ali, and his own, increasing familiarity with Koranic scripture and verse. Under the Pasha, printing presses were established at Alexandria and Cairo and newspapers circulated at an unprecedented rate. These advances in printing and translation during the 1820s and '30s succeeded in Egypt in raising literacy rates class- and gender-wide. As a leading figure in Orientalist painting for nearly two decades, and being more well-read and studied than most, Deutsch may have felt that the obligatory deference paid to the imams in this and others of these works was now owed to him as well.

    We are grateful to Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D for preparing the above introduction and for her assistance in cataloguing lots 41-43.
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