Language of French Orientalist Painting

Author: Gill, Hélène
This study focuses on three characteristic proponents of the genre in French painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries: Horace Vernet, Eugène Fromentin, and Etienne Dinet. By confronting post-Saidian critique of orientalist cultural productions with the historical context of the target works, it raises fundamental questions: is there a ’right’ to represent the non-European Other, or is the Western gaze irretrievably reductive? What can be said about the gaps, ambiguities, lucid ‘moments’ which may be glimpsed in the work of certain artists of the colonial era? What do some in the formerly colonized East see in an output which has been so categorically deconstructed as the aesthetic arm of imperialism?


“In avoiding polarizations she is able to undo easy categories (especially with respect to Vernet) thanks to her engagement with historicized perspectives and the skill with which she relates the production of these painters to issues in metropolitan France (and, in Dinet’s case, post-independence Algeria). Indeed, the lightness of touch with which she calls on her extensive scholarship – on politics, institutions or cultural practices like collecting and museum policy – is one of the key strengths of her book. The other strength I would highlight… is her ability to move between detailed analysis, as in the first chapter on the Prise…, and engagement with an entire oeuvre, its sources, specificity and place in art history…. It not only corrects some of the oversimplifications common in the traditional Orientalist approach, but reproblematises works, and indeed a specific colonial area, too readily shelved and/or forgotten.” – Dr. Peter Dunwoodie, University of London

“This work is thoroughly up-to-date, and manages to combine a snappy prose style and ease of accessibility with genuine erudition and scholarly rigour across a wide range of academic disciplines.” – Dr. Philip Dine, National University of Ireland, Galway

“This is an important and remarkable book…. Brilliantly interprets the paintings of Vernet, Fromentin and Dinet, but also, and crucially, illuminates the complexity of official (French and, since 1962, Algerian) attitudes to their work. Hélène Gill triumphantly realizes her purpose of situating these artists and their work in their full historical context and of demonstrating thereby both how and why the binary oppositions central to the post-colonial critique of Orientalism need to be refined and put in perspective.” – Hugh Roberts, Visiting Research Fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science, Vice-President, The Society for Algerian Studies

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
1. Introduction: A few questions
2. Horace Vernet and The Capture of the Smala of Abd-el-Kader
3. Eugène Fromentin and the experience of the desert: self-quest in the Other’s territory
4. Transcultural pursuits: Etienne Nasr ed Dine Dinet
5. Conclusions: the uses (and quirks) of acculturation
Bibliography; Index