Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935) The Qanun Player

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Lot 63
Ludwig Deutsch
(Austrian, 1855-1935)
The Qanun Player

Sold for £ 1,167,062 (US$ 1,497,748) inc. premium
Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855-1935)
The Qanun Player
signed, inscribed and dated 'L. Deutsch PARIS 1903' (upper left)
oil on panel
77.5 x 53cm (30 1/2 x 20 7/8in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    M. Newman Ltd., London.
    Private collection, UK.
    Thence by descent.

    In The Qanun Player, Ludwig Deutsch creates a work that is both instantly familiar and entirely new. A bearded man, seated cross-legged upon a carpet on the floor, plays the qanun, a traditional stringed instrument indigenous to the Middle East. He is observed by a second Arab figure, leaning against an intricately patterned wall. The room itself is rich in ornamental detail, with colourful inlaid stonework, elaborate wooden carvings, and an enormous mashrabiyyah window, through which the soft glow of sunlight streams. The mood of Deutsch's picture is soothing and subdued; this is a different kind of Orientalism than what was offered by his peers, one in which drama and eroticism have no place.

    The setting of Deutsch's picture is significant, if not architecturally exact. Though European travellers had provided descriptions of domestic architecture in the Middle East by the early 18th century, serious study of the region's private buildings did not begin until the work of Napoleon's Scientific and Artistic Commission in Egypt in 1798, headed by Vivant Denon and Pascal Coste. The official findings of the Commission, called the Description de l'Égypte, were published in Paris between 1809 and 1828 in multiple, lavishly illustrated volumes (Paris: Imprimerie impériale). Egypt's modern culture was illustrated in two of the volumes (published circa 1809 and circa 1817), ten plates from which showed plans, elevations, and perspective views of houses in Cairo then occupied by the French. In Britain, Edward William Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London, 1836) provided the first substantive discourse on Egypt's domestic architecture. Lane's text, illustrated by the author in black and white, was followed visually by the colourful renditions of James William Wild and, later, by the work of Frank Dillon, an artist and advocate for architectural preservation. Deutsch's rendition of the interior of this Cairene house draws from these traditions, while forging a new path as well.

    In addition to studying Cairo's architecture through the prints and texts cited above, Deutsch may have based his composition on various houses he knew first-hand. Traditional Mamluk or Ottoman houses were a particular favourite of European artists, who found the crumbling piles delightfully picturesque. Writing to a friend in 1870, Frederick Goodall related that he had 'decided to look for a house removed as far as possible from what is called the civilized quarters and was fortunate in finding, with the assistance of an old acquaintance the [?] Effendi, an old Arab house which, perfect in every detail with its rich latticed works, stained glass, inlaid doors and cupboards, affording capital backgrounds for figures, and from the roof a glorious panorama of the city . . . .' (Frederick Goodall to David Roberts, 4 November 1870, Bicknell Album of Artist Letters, Department of Rare Books and Archives, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT). Rather than a transcript of reality, however, based on a single locale, the house in Deutsch's work appears to be a conflation of several that he visited during his time in Cairo, many of which have sadly since been destroyed.

    The qanun player in Deutsch's picture was a favourite model of the artist's in Paris and appears in other musically-oriented works from this time (see, for example The Mandolin ('Ood) Player of 1904, Shafik Gabr Collection). His regular occurrence is yet another reminder of the studio craftsmanship of Deutsch's "ethnographic" compositions, and the artistic liberties that he often took once his travels were over.

    We are grateful to Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D for compiling this catalogue entry. The work will be included in a critical catalogue of the Orientalist work of Ludwig Deutsch currently in preparation by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.
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