Orientalist Artwork

Orientalist Artwork

The “Orientalists” were European artists mainly from Britain, France, Germany and Italy that travelled specifically to the Middle East to paint local, archaeological and biblical scenes. They recorded a wide range of subject-matter; the different costumes, the River Nile, the desert with its encampments and camel caravan trains transporting goods. Cairo and its Khans and buildings, both ancient and Islamic were of great interest as well as the religious manifestations of Islam. The political involvement of both Britain and France in North Africa, the Levant and Egypt generated considerable curiosity in Europe about the customs and peoples whose outlook was vastly different to that of the West. While many artists recorded faithfully what they saw, others with a sometimes, subconscious prurient interest in the inaccessible world of women, painted imaginative scenes featuring women in semi-nude poses. However, often the paintings faithfully recorded the varied and beautiful costumes of the period, as well as the splendid buildings with lattice work windows and honeycombed stalactites adorning their walls. The deserts with their fierce, harsh terrain and their period but hardly Bedouin were another source of inspiration and fascination. Both urban landscape and the countryside with its clear hard light and colours provided endless scenes for the brush. 

The Tareq Rajab Museum possesses a collection of artwork by prominent Orientalists such as David Roberts, Carl Haag, Frederick Goodall, Tomas Moragas and other lesser known artists of the period. Whilst a much of the artwork, including a complete collection of David Roberts’ subscription lithographs are currently in storage, a number of important pieces of artwork are on display. These include portraits of the famous Lady Jane Digby el-Mesrab at Palmyra (c. 1859, Syria) and her husband Sheikh Mijuel el-Mesrab of Tedmour (Palmyra) (c. 1859, Syria), as well as “The Water Fountain” by Tomas Moragas and “Arab Woman” by Frederick Goodall. 

The Orientalists

Learn about some of the most famous Orientalists in the Tareq Rajab Museum

Born in Stockbridge near Edinburgh, David Roberts was a famous Scottish painter known for his large oil paintings and his prolific series of lithograph prints titled “The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia“. Roberts started his career as an apprentice house painter and decorator, only studying art in the evenings. Although beginning work in 1815 as a foreman for the redecoration of Scone Palace, Roberts decided to join the circus only a year later to paint stage scenery, traveling across England and earning 25 shillings per week. However, this did not last long and over the next five years, Roberts repeatedly alternated between jobs as a house painter and a scene painter and was not until 1821, that he began to produce oil paintings seriously. Over the next few years, he began to build his reputation as an artist, submitting many of his early paintings to various exhibitions across the United Kingdom and by 1829, he was working full-time as a fine artist before he was elected at president of the Society of British Artists in 1831. 

In 1832, Roberts left his home in London and travelled through France and into Spain. It was this trip and his exposure to the Oriental world of Southern Spain and Morocco that would ultimately encourage him to take his tour of Egypt and the Holy Land in 1838. Roberts had a love of architecture and the old remnants of Al-Andalus and the Emirate of Granada in Southern Spain, such as the magnificent Alhambra, likely burned in his mind as he spoke frequently of that fascinating trip. Upon his return to England, Roberts worked tirelessly to earn enough money from his artwork to indulge in a once in a lifetime trip to the Near East. By 1838, Roberts had saved up enough money and possessed the correct paperwork to embark on a year long journey across the Near East, making the initial three week journey from London to Alexandria. Upon his arrival in Egypt, Roberts immediately hired a guide and a mule, sketching Alexandria before travelling down the Nile and making sketches of Egypt’s ancient monuments before arriving in Nubia.

Roberts would then travel to the Holy Land to produce the sketches for some of his greatest work. Upon his return to Britain, Roberts was awarded the title of R.A Royal Academician of London, before working closely with the lithographer Louis Haghe from 1842 – 1849 to produce the illustrated plates of “The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia“. Roberts funded this work through advance subscriptions, accumulating a total of 400 commitments, with Queen Victoria being subscriber number one.

A biography written by Denise Rajab titled “David Roberts RA 1796-1864: The life and works of a Scottish artist” is available for sale at the Tareq Rajab Museum. This simple biography contains a brief encounter of his life; it includes engravings of his trip to France, Spain and North Africa as well as the most famously known travels around Egypt, Nubia and the Holy Land. The book also contains some unpublished insights from his private letters that are housed at the National Library of Scotland. 

Carl Haag was born on the 20th of April 1820 in Erlangen, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. Haag was trained at the Fine Arts school of Nuremberg, later coming under the tutelage of Peter von Cornelius, Carl Rottman and Wilhem von Kaulbach, who took him under his wing. Beginning his career as an oil-painter of portraits and architectural subjects, Haag freuqently travelled across Europe to exhibit his work. Having fallen in love with the watercolour work of English painters, Haag at the age of 27, decided to settle in London devoting himself to the study of watercolours. Just three years later, Haag was elected an associate of the Royal Society of British Artists before becoming a full member in 1853.  It was through the society, that he was able to displayed a great many of his paintings and watercolours on a regular basis. Although Haag had developed a love for watercolours, he also produced many oil paintings, particularly of architectural patterns and the faces of various women. While serving as the court painter for the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Haag was noticed by Prince Consort Albert, who introduced him to Queen Victoria who soon after, became a patron of his, commissioning many paintings.

Although Haag was a very well known and respected artist by this stage, it was not until 1858 when he travelled to Egypt with his friend Frederick Goodall, another very famous Orientalist, did he become an Orientalist himself, cementing his reputation as an artist until the present day. Upon his arrival in the Near East, Haag completely immersed himself, sharing everyday life with nomadic peoples and travelling across Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Upon the request of Queen Victoria, Haag was granted a royal edict by Sultan Abdul Madjid that allowed him to enter the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and paint the Holy Rock itself. Haag’s reputation only continued to spread across Europe and in 1873, he obtained his first award for his work “Danger in the desert”. By 1878, Haag was made a Chevalier of the Honour Legion. Towards the end of his career, Haag left his home in England and returned to the newly united German Empire where he lived out the remainder of his days, passing away in Oberwesel at the age of 94.

The son of a renowned steel line engraver, Frederick Goodall was born in St. John’s Wood, London in 1822 and recieved his education from Wellington Road Academy, a private school that Charles Dickens had attended. David Roberts is just one of a number of artists that were frequent visitors to the Goodall house, encouraging both Frederick and his brother Edward to become professional artists themselves. The two brothers spent much of their free time during their childhood sketching at the zoo in Regents Park, the Albany Street Barracks and along the banks of the river Thames. Extremely gifted at a very young age, Frederick recieved his first comission at the age of just sixteen after a chance meeting with Isambard Brunel. Goodall completed six watercolour drawings of the tunnel works at Rotherhithe, four of which were displayed at the Royal Academy. Even his first oil painting of a drowned miner won a silver medal from the Society of Arts. Between 1838 and 1859, Goodall’s work was exhibited 27 times. During this time he had no trouble selling his artwork and  finding patrons to commission new pieces. By 1852, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA), later becoming a full Royal Academician (RA) in 1863. 

Although a well respected artist, a major turning point in his career came in 1858, when he was invited on a trip to Egypt with a group of friends, including Carl Haag. Aside from a few notable works on English landscapes completed before 1858, the vast majority of his future artwork would feature Egypt as their setting. Upon his arrival in Cairo, Goodall rented a house with Carl Haag and the pair would ride into the Egyptian countryside to sketch whatever they could before camping with Bedouin tribesmen for weeks on end. The pairs house in Cairo even became well known by visiting artists and travellers for its plum pudding, which was made from a secret family recipe. While Haag left Egypt to travel across the Holy land, Goodall instead returned to London to begin working a great number of oil paintings. His first Orientalist work was titled “Early Morning Wilderness of Shur” and in 1860, was displayed at the Royal Academy, receiving much praise from fellow artists including David Roberts. So meticulous was Goodall, that he even brought back a herd of Egyptian goats and a flock of sheep to England.

Goodall became extremely wealthy from the sale of his paintings and he constructed a large house on a new 110 acre estate in Harrow Weald, where he would entertain guests such as the future King Edward VII. Goodall continued to paint into the 20th century; however, by the time of his death in 1904, his income had dwindled dramatically, leaving him bankrupt. He is buried at Highgate in London and is remembered as one of the great Orientalists of his time. 


Collection Highlights

A few examples of the notable works housed in the museum

Click on each image for more details!

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