Vision of an orientalist

Vision of an orientalist

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Title: The Land of Thirst.

Author : FROMENTIN Eugène (1820 - 1876)

Creation date : 1869

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 103 - Width 134.2

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palaissite web

Picture reference: 96DE22366 / RE 2671

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In his book A year in the Sahel, published in 1858, Eugène Fromentin, writer as much as painter, relates the episode which he reproduces in this painting, probably painted around 1869, which never left his studio: “The heat increased by six degrees during my absence […] at a similar time, three years ago, a convoy of twenty men was surprised by the desert wind halfway from El-Aghouat to Gardaïa. "Book he concludes with the words that will give its title to this work:" I think with fear that we will soon have to return to the north […] and I will greet with deep regret this horizon so threatening, so desolate and that we have rightly named "Land of thirst". "

Image Analysis

This canvas, ironic of fate, was once the property of Edouard Martell, the cognac merchant, who lent it to the exhibition of the hundred masterpieces of French and foreign schools at the Georges Petit gallery, in 1892. The anonymous editor of the catalog of this event has grasped, in a few words, its deep content: “The desert: the sky weighed down with heat, weighs down on the waves of sand its muted tones. Sometimes a mirage seems to indicate a pool; but the place where you arrive is dry: no more water, nothing! Those who made up the caravan have fallen exhausted: the men, prey to burning thirst, writhing in horrible pains, and it is above them an enormous silence, which only the weakened spasms of agonies interrupt. . On the horizon, a very distant city, silhouetted in the air shining with its stone buildings. Such a canvas gave rise to a new pictorial theme: the shipwreck in the sands which, for a few years, would compete with the navies.


Before Orientalism became a subject of fashionable paintings, composed in the workshop from recipes and travel souvenirs gleaned from Parisian second-hand dealers, a few artists combining the activities of painter and writer distinguished themselves through their travels in the East. Much less numerous than the writers among whom we must rank François de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), Maxime Du Camp ( 1822-1894), Edmond About (1828-1885), Pierre Loti or, finally, Maurice Barrès (1862-1923), they nevertheless left an abundant work, an inexhaustible source of information on the geography of the cities and countries visited, on local traditions as well as on the forms of European occupation. The oldest of these painter-writers was Antoine-Laurent Castellan (1772-1838), who distinguished himself at the Salons with historical landscapes, before undertaking, from 1802 to 1812, a journey from which he will bring back Letters about the Morea (1808), Letters about Constantinople (1811) and Manners, customs, costumes of the Ottomans (1812), illustrated works later brought together in a single publication. Barely younger, Louis Auguste, Count of Forbin (1777-1841), who hardly left a name as a painter but rather as director of the Louvre, organized an expedition to the East, from 1817. From this journey through the whole Middle East which takes him from Athens to Palestine, he reports a Travel in the Levant in 1817 and 1818, embellished with eighty luxurious plates of his hand. Then come the best known of these travelers, painters and writers, Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) and Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876). More disparate than that of his predecessors, the literary work that Delacroix drew from his trip to Morocco in 1832 is to be found in his abundant correspondence, in his sketchbooks filled with handwritten annotations published several times, and in the text that 'he published in 1842, in The Picturesque Store, “A Jewish wedding in Morocco”. With Fromentin, we are reconnecting with travel literature; to the texts already cited, we must also add a Egypt trip, journal written in 1869 while taking part in an archaeological cruise, then when he was part of the official French delegation to the inaugural celebrations of the Suez Canal. But on this date and with Fromentin, the story of the discovery of the Orient changes, it no longer rests on the presence of images.

  • Algeria
  • East
  • Orientalism
  • Morocco
  • Chateaubriand (François-René de)
  • Lamartine (Alphonse de)
  • Gautier (Théophile)
  • Flaubert (Gustave)
  • Barrès (Mauritius)
  • literature
  • novel
  • Delacroix (Eugene)
  • Suez Canal


Jean-Claude BERCHET The Journey to the Orient Paris, Robert Laffont, 1985 Collective Delacroix.The trip to Morocco , exhibition catalog, September 27, 1994 - January 15, 1995 Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe Guy DUMUR Delacroix and Morocco Paris, Herscher, 1988.

To cite this article

Dominique LOBSTEIN, "Vision of an orientalist"

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