Exotic Harem Paintings

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					  Exotic Harem Paintings
  Gender, Documentation, and Imagination

                                                             julia kuehn

“Orientalism is only a phase in the cult of the Exotic,” wrote French art histo-
rian Philippe Jullian in his study on the genre of painting that scholars have,
since the nineteenth century, commonly referred to as Orientalist.1 In the
most general sense Orientalist art, which was pioneered by the French and
then developed by British and other European artists, refers to images of the
life, history, and topography of the geographical area between Turkey, the
Near East and the Arab peninsula, and North Africa. The large number of
available exhibition catalogs bears testimony to the public’s persistent interest
in Orientalist art, a genre that has also enjoyed sustained debate in scholar-
ship.2 Regrettably, the contributions of lesser-known and specifically female
artists remain to this day largely undocumented an
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Description: [...] I am more attracted to the critical studies of Michel Thvoz, Olivier Richon, Peter Mason, and Frederic Bohrer, who, in their readings of Orientalist art, replace the stable binaries of Orientalism with the oscillating, in-between, hybrid, and often paradoxical features of the exotic. The seraglio was of course inaccessible to male Orientalist painters (who, like Gr me and Delacroix, painted it nevertheless); hence it offered both an aesthetic opportunity and a test for female painters, which often resulted in the ambiguous artistic results we see on Browne's and Jerichau's canvases.\n73 Such classification is surprising: women might have been associated with an empirical realism, but not with the neutral, scientific objectivity required by ethnographic depictions of type.74 Nor is there, as Melman explains, any evidence in women's documents of the period that suggests such a trajectory: when women provided ethnographic information, it was usually coded as empathetic and emotional, rather than disinterested and scientifically detached.75 Now, Browne and Jerichau did produce what could be called ethnographic paintings, namely Moorish Girl with Parakeet (1875) and Egyptian Pottery Seller near Gizeh (1876-78) - paintings that were unsurprisingly, Lewis writes, not received with the same attention or notoriety as the painters' harem representations.76 A detailed analysis of the two painters' quasi- ethnographic paintings and particularly their style would reveal the same instability of neat classifications of realism, (ethnographic) objectivity, distance, femininity, imagination, involvement, and fantasy, as in the harem paintings.
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