Title: Women of Algiers in their apartment
Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)
Creation date : 1834
Dimensions: Height 180 - Width 229
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.
Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved
Picture reference: 93-001767-02 / INV3824
Women of Algiers in their apartment
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved
Publication date: January 2007
In 1832, Eugène Delacroix made a unique trip to Morocco and Algeria. In Algiers, he is allowed to visit the harem of a Turkish privateer, a revelation that inspires him Women of Algiers in their apartment, a masterpiece he exhibited at the Salon of 1834.
With his trip to North Africa, Eugène Delacroix’s aesthetic repertoire was enriched with new motifs that became recurring in his work over the following years. The Web Women of Algiers in their apartment admirably inaugurates this vein which will last for thirty years, until the artist's death.
In the huge gloomy rooms of the annual Salon, Delacroix’s painting shines with a new light, which not everyone can see. All of Delacroix's painting is situated in this difficult relationship between the imaginary and the real, between the observation of the true and the visionary impulse.
In the closed and confined space of an Algiers harem, three women are seated on luxurious oriental rugs. They wear rich tunics of vaporous embroidered silk, over baggy pants, harem pants, which show their bare calves. They are adorned with an abundance of precious jewelry. The woman on the left leans casually on stacked cushions, while her two companions seem to be engaged in a soft, hushed conversation. To the right, a black maid comes out of the field, turning her head towards her mistresses. The walls are covered with earthenware tiles adorned with delicate patterns. In the niche which overhangs a cupboard with half-open doors appears precious crockery. To the left of this niche hangs a richly framed mirror. On the ground lie three abandoned slippers. The long-haired woman seated to the right holds the long hookah pipe in her left hand. The room is devoid of furniture but it exudes an impression of luxury and exoticism.
describes this painting as "a small interior poem, full of rest and silence, cluttered with rich fabrics and toiletries". Later, Cézanne wrote that "these pale roses and these embroidered cushions, this babouche, all this clarity [...] enter your eye like a glass of wine in your throat, and you are immediately drunk". As for Renoir, he will think that "there is no more beautiful painting in the world". For him, this work "smells of the pastille of the seraglio".
Indeed, Eugène Delacroix portrays a universe that is both strange and fascinating, the exoticism of which has an explicitly erotic tone. The sensuality of these women, their abandoned attitudes, suggest a lasciviousness impossible to conceive in the West. The corset of good morals of European society is unbridled, and the audience of the Salon is led to a veritable revolution of the gaze that overturns conventions and bourgeois conformism.
Object of curiosity and fantasies in the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries, the East becomes, "for the intelligences as much as for the imaginations, a kind of general preoccupation" (Victor Hugo, preface of Oriental, 1829) in the following century. Its luxury, its mystery, the exoticism with which it is haloed, fuel the dream of the Levant which inspires writers and artists.
"The trip to Algiers becomes as essential for painters as the pilgrimage to Italy: they will learn the sun, study the light, look for original types, primitive and biblical manners and attitudes," notes Théophile Gautier. Writers and artists turn into explorers, take advantage of the consular or commercial offices entrusted to them to travel, obtain documentation, study the cultures, customs and familiar universe of this mythical Orient. They follow the scientific missions of orientalist academics. Their investigations lead them to Algiers, Cairo or Constantinople. However, many painters never set foot in the land of the Orient and only travel around their easels, drawing inspiration from travel accounts made by others. This is the case, among others, of
(1771-1835), fromJean Auguste Dominique Ingres
(1780-1867), Francisco Hayez (1791-1882) or John Martin (1789-1854), who nevertheless sacrificed in the orientalist fashion.
Harem scenes presenting languid and lascivious women, virile hunting or fighting scenes, descriptions of typical landscapes - deserts, oases or oriental cities -, street scenes, these are the main subjects tackled by the painters, which emphasize on certain details: the costumes, the peculiarities of the architecture, the objects of daily life and the habitat. Around 1880, certain themes - that of the harem, for example - fell into disuse in favor of a realistic ethnographic study that left little room for exoticism and fantasy.
At the beginning of the XXe century, the Orient gradually ceased to inspire French painting despite the opening in Algiers, in 1907, of the villa Abd el-Tif, the Algerian equivalent of the Medici villa. The independence of Algeria in 1962 and the closure of this institution will spell the end of the orientalist current.
- Louis Philippe
ANONYMOUS, Delacroix and the orientalism of his time. The Master's Workshop, Paris, Society of Friends of Eugène Delacroix, 1951.
Jean CASSOU, Delacroix, Paris, Editions du Dimanche, 1947.
Pierre COURTHION, The Life of Delacroix, Paris, NRF, coll. "Lives of illustrious men", no 12, 1927.
Henri GOURDIN, Eugène Delacroix. Biography, Paris, Les Éditions de Paris, 1998.
A. MARTINI, Eugène Delacroix, Paris, Hachette, coll. "Masterpieces of Art, Great Painters", no 51, 1967.
Régis CHICKEN, The Orient: genealogy of an illusion, Paris, Presses universitaire du Septentrion, 2002.
Edward W. SAID, Orientalism. The East created by the West, Paris, Le Seuil, 1997.
Lynne THORNTON, The Orientalists / Traveling Painters, Paris, ACR Éditions, 1983 (reed. 2001).
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), catalog of the Centenary exhibition in Paris, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1963.
Colors of Morocco, Delacroix and the Moroccan decorative arts, catalog of the exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Bordeaux, 2002.
To cite this article
Alain GALOIN, " Women of Algiers in their apartment by Delacroix "