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Exotic harem paintings: gender, documentation, and imagination.

"Orientalism is only a phase in the cult of the Exotic" wrote French art historian 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 scholarship.2 Regrettably, the contributions of lesser-known and specifically female artists remain to this day largely undocumented and unanalyzed. Overshadowed by the Delacroixs and Dinets in France, and the Lewises, Leightons, and Lears in Britain, sustained readings of the works and reception of female artists such as Henriette Browne and Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, who feature in this essay, are still rare. This is an unfortunate omission, writes Roger Benjamin, as it is actually "the mass of less distinguished artists who most accurately characterize Orientalism as a cultural phenomenon."'

If the quest for comprehensiveness and the rediscovery of forgotten (female) artists must remain a critical prerogative, it is equally important to review from time to time the critical frameworks used in existing analyses. And it is here--highlighted in Jullian's quotation above--that this essay takes its methodological point of departure. In recent years, despite the necessity to use the term Orientalism to refer to the genre as a whole, critics have increasingly turned away from this critically and historically loaded term and toward the paradigm of "the exotic."

Art historian Linda Nochlin first employed Edward Said's notion of Orientalism in her analysis of the misrepresentations of the Orient in Gerome's Snake Charmer and Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus.4 Her observations on Gerome's realistic style, which seems to legitimize the painting's subtext of Western cultural superiority, and on Delacroix's fantasy about (Eastern) men's power over (Eastern harem) women, remain forceful and valid. However, they are built on Said's premise of the Western misrepresentation of the East and, a priori, the fixed binary opposition of West and East; two assumptions I want to scrutinize in this essay. Hence I am more attracted to the critical studies of Michel Thevoz, 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.

What emerges as more crucial in Thevoz, Richon, Mason, and Bohrer than the paintings' ideological underpinnings of an East-West dichotomy is that the painterly exotic is, from the outset, unstable. In these critics' view this precariousness results from the constant conflict and negotiation between object/scene and artistic process, or the painter's objective, documentary agenda to paint the Orient and her subjective, creative desire for compositions. If Nochlin's Saidian analysis looks primarily to an external and political reality to read the iconography of Orientalist art, the other critics alter the order of importance: while not completely discarding the relevance of politics and ideas for portrayals of geographical and cultural difference, they highlight the intrinsic artistic transformations that flow into these paintings as representations.

Let me elaborate on these critics' celebration of exoticism as a useful critical paradigm for Orientalist paintings and also introduce my own approach to Browne's and Jerichau-Baumann's Orientalist, or as I would prefer to call them, exoticist paintings. Unfortunately, like (Saidian) Orientalism, exoticism has been misapplied as a concept in discussions of the Orientalist genre, even by well-known curators.5 However, in its best and most productive critical usage it follows the following trajectory: Mason writes, in Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic, that the exotic is nothing but a "representational effect."6 Exoticism is not an essence or quality that is innate to, or resides "in," an object or scene; consequently, the critic's task is to look for the aesthetic modalities and transformations through which the exotic is produced. In a second step the critic is then invited to consider how such modalities and transformations are influenced and measured by the representations' reception. The issue of reception and the audience, which features prominently in Mason's and Bohrer's studies of exotic visual art (the latter building his entire critical framework on reception theory), will emerge at various points in this essay and find elaboration where required. (7) Suffice it for now to say that the presence of the audience and its expectations contributes, as a third factor in the painter-painting-recipient triangle, to the overall instability of the exotic representation.

This essay, then, looks at the works of two neglected female Orientalist painters: French-born Henriette Browne (i.e., Madame de Saux, 1829-1901) and Polish-Danish artist Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann (1819-81), both of whom exhibited regularly in Paris and London. This pairing might seem surprising at first, but becomes explicable in combination with the critical framework foregrounded here. Employing the concept of "the exotic," this essay reveals the very conflictual nature of these women's Eastern representations and the strategies used therein; it will emerge that within this aesthetic conflict (which I will detail shortly) Browne and Jerichau found rather different artistic "solutions." Furthermore this essay suggests that the representational tension caused by "the exotic" creates a unique dilemma for female Orientalist painters such as Browne and Jerichau-Baumann, who took, specifically, the Eastern harem and its inhabitants, which and whom they had personally encountered, as subject matter for their art. The seraglio was of course inaccessible to male Orientalist painters (who, like Gerome 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.

Let me conclude this introductory section by elaborating on the challenges of the exotic representation on the one hand and the Eastern harem as subject matter on the other; what is paramount for my argument is that both take us into the heart of instability, which Saidian Orientalism denies. Concerning the modalities through which the exotic is produced, Mason suggests that realism/ethnography and imagination are the two main reference points (not binaries) on the oscillating exotic spectrum. (8) Thevoz, too, sees the exotic representation as a constant negotiation between the modalities of ethnographic documentation on the one hand and fantasy on the other, a point further elaborated by Richon. (9) Benjamin translates these modalities as the painter's choice between loyalty to the object and an objective mode, and loyalty to the aesthetic vision and subjectivity. His image of the "Oriental Mirage"-- which we may want to rephrase as the "Exotic Mirage"--captures once again the precariousness of the exotic representation: whether we call the reference points documentation and imagination, realism and fantasy, the actual and the artistic, or the objective and the subjective, the image of the mirage encapsulates the flightiness of the exotic representation and its object, "the other." (10)

The reader may think that the difference between documentation and imagination corresponds to that between the traveler and the armchair traveler, or the painter who actually visited the Orient and the one who only fantasized about it. (11) Within this line of reasoning one of the most famous Orientalist painters, Ingres, would belong to the second category: he "only" took the inspiration for his many famous odalisque and bath scenes from Lady Montagu's Turkish travelogue, without ever visiting the Ottoman Empire himself. The reader may also assume that the distinction between a realist and a fantastic mode corresponds to that between the professional artist and the amateur. (12) However, both these assumptions are incorrect. The two female painters discussed in this essay were professionals and members of the Academy, who went on at least one journey to "the East," and more specifically to the Ottoman Empire: Henriette Browne traveled to Turkey in 1860, Morocco in 1864, and Egypt and Syria in the winter of 1868-69; Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann traveled extensively in Persia, the Middle East, and North Africa from the 1850s, and specifically in Turkey, Greece, and Egypt in 1869-70 and 1874-75. (l3)

The challenges of the exotic representation are thus chiefly aesthetic: how to "document" and "represent" on canvas the various Eastern scenes actually witnessed and the people encountered? This challenge is then complicated by the fact that it is the harem--"the most popular of all themes in Orientalist painting" but also the trickiest--that establishes the primary subject matter of our two women's paintings. (14) Invited to visit some women's quarters in Constantinople, Browne and Jerichau translated their firsthand experience and knowledge onto canvas.

The harem, Meyda Yegenoglu writes in her complex study on modern subjectivity, desire, and the metaphorical problems involved in Western representations of the veil in writing, is so interesting because "discourses of cultural and sexual difference are powerfully mapped onto each other." (15) And here we must inevitably return to the issue of politics in the exotic representation. Nochlin is right to remind critics that they cannot completely ignore political and ideological issues in discussions of the Orientalist (or exoticist) paintings produced by Western women in the nineteenth century. Due to imperial endeavors and complicated foreign policy, Europe's relationship with the Ottoman Empire was full of conflict, and Browne's and Jerichau's travels to the East were, in actual fact, enabled through diplomatic and royal connections in the imperial world. Consequently, cultural preconceptions and ideologies would not have left these women's perceptions and artistic visions completely untouched. (16)

And if certain cultural ideologies cannot be eliminated from the analysis of these women's harem paintings, the gendered politics of the Eastern seraglio would undoubtedly also have influenced our two painters. As Alev Croutier and Leslie Peirce show in their critical studies, the harem was a place of power relations, between men and women, women and women, women and servants. (17) "Enlightened" male writers and painters of the nineteenth century--without firsthand knowledge, of course--envisioned the harem as a tyrant's arena for willful political and sexual power games. The tyrant's alleged acts of violence against his slaves and his women, and the sexual licentiousness that was enabled by the rules of Muslim polygamy, thus allowed the male Western "observer" to simultaneously fantasize about and, due to his cultural superiority, condemn the "Eastern ways of life." (18)

When, increasingly, nineteenth-century Western women like Browne and Jerichau gained access to Ottoman harems, they revealed that such conceptions were far-fetched. In response, as Billie Melman argues, these women often attempted in their written and pictorial accounts to "normal[ise] and human [ise] the harem," invoking a sisterly spirit across different cultures.19 This laudable endeavor, however, did not always succeed, as we will see in the subsequent analysis, given the additional challenges posed by cultural difference and aesthetics. While outcomes differed, the fact remained that gender politics governed the harem and were witnessed by female Western visitors who would, from their experiences in Europe, have known about male-female power dynamics in the home.

Such considerations about the complex cultural, political, and gendered specificities of power in the Ottoman Empire and specifically its women's quarters cannot be ignored. Consequently, it must remain this essay's responsibility--although it replaces Orientalism as critical paradigm with exoticism in order to foreground the unstable facets of the so-called Orientalist genre--to weave these ideological concerns into the crucial, detailed analysis of the representational modalities employed in Browne's and Jerichau's portrayals of the Eastern harem and its women.


"It is a curious and not uninteresting fact, that, while the literary women of Great Britain are vastly superior in number, talent, and acquirement to those of France, the women of the latter have cultivated the sister arts of music and painting in far greater numbers and with far greater success than have the daughters of Albion" Thus noted the English Woman's Journal in the 1860 piece that introduced the French painter Henriette Browne--whose oeuvre would become a touchstone for all subsequent female Orientalist painters--to the British public. (20) At the time of the article Browne had just exhibited a series of paintings featuring convent life as their subject matter at the French Gallery in London, which the reviewers celebrated, despite the fact that the British population was at the time hardly subtle in their expression of xenophobic and anti-Catholic sentiments, the latter due to the recent Anglo-Catholic revival movement. (21)

The most famous of these convent paintings was The Sisters of Charity of 1859, which depicts two nuns, who wear the distinctive bonnets of the order, in the process of nursing a sick child: the sister in the foreground looks with a worried air at the feverish patient in her lap, while the sister in the background mixes medicine. British reviews of the convent paintings, like the 1860 article by A.B. and another one by Reverend Charles Kingsley, comment specifically on two characteristics through which Browne's paintings recommend themselves, and these are their realist style and what was perceived as their feminine vision.

As Nochlin elaborates, a realist style in painting was then generally understood to present "subject matter from the contemporary world; a tone which is didactic and moralizing and a style which is clear, representational, and often richly detailed in its delineation of locale, type and situation." (22) A.B. shows such an understanding of realism when he confirms that Browne "never invents; she observes, combines, and reproduces. In all her paintings every face is a portrait; every detail, however minute, is copied from Nature with literal fidelity. Though each of her pictures in its wholeness is a creation of her own mind, all the elements of which it is composed are borrowed from real life." (23)

The astute comment on the artist's conflict between realist documentation and aesthetic translation is worthy of note, as it is also central to Kingsley's review. Kingsley starts out by classifying Browne's convent paintings as "naturalist (or, as it is very unsophistically called, realist) art," but he subsequently suggests that Browne's realist convent paintings also combine a deeper aesthetic and moral vision: "a heart pure, noble, charitable, and pious." (24) Both A.B. and Kingsley characterize Browne as a particularly feminine painter and her paintings as the expression of the artist's feminine qualities. Kings-ley sees "beauty and homely fact ... perfectly combined" in Browne's art and character, and A.B. too describes at length Browne's morality, virtuousness, and domestic bliss, which, he suggests, form the foundation of her realist vision: being of a "remarkably modest and retiring disposition, devoted to her family and her home, and prizing the sympathy of friends far more than the applause of strangers," Browne has, he writes, "shrunk, with almost painful sensitiveness, from the public gaze." (25) A few pages later he repeats that Browne is "unaffectedly modest and simple in all things, and regard[s] the domestic circle almost too exclusively as the peculiar sphere of woman's action"; being "a devoted wife and daughter, an admirable housekeeper, busy as a bee from morning till night"--the latter because of both her art and her domestic and social duties--she leads, overall, "the ordinary life of a woman of this nineteenth century." (26)

Taken as a whole, A.B. and Kingsley thus combine in their assessment of the female painter's achievements notions of painterly style with attributes of gender. As Nochlin declares, the invocation of gender in a female and nineteenth-century realist painter's appraisal is conventional. With the hindsight of a twentieth-century art historian's perspective, she however also argues that such a combination of art and gender is both naive and misleading: art is not "the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms," but must instead be assessed as "a self-consistent language of form," "a conscious effort, free from conventions, schemata, systems of notions like 'the feminine.'" (27) However, A.B.'s and Kingsley's characterization of Browne's art as both realist and feminine is significant as it explains how this artist could, after such positive appraisals of her convent paintings, enter the even more risque Orientalist genre.

A.B. concludes his celebration of Browne with a mention of the trip that would produce her two famous harem paintings. Together with her diplomat husband, Browne went, via Rome and Naples, to Constantinople in 1860, where she stayed for a fortnight, and as A.B. writes, "these brief experiences of atmospheric appearances, local coloring, and social conditions, so different from those of France, would seem to have been not only a source of lively interest and pleasure, but also to have constituted a marked epoch in her artistic education" (28)

A.B. would be proven right, and the foreign setting initiated not only a change in Browne's aesthetic outlook and professional career but also, and more important, a change in the hitherto male-dominated Orientalist and harem painting tradition. We find details of this revolutionary trip in the diary of Mary Adelaide Walker, an amateur painter who lived in Turkey for over thirty years and who mentions taking Browne inside a harem in 1860. Here, the two European women having asked their hostess not to receive them formally (which often meant that Turkish women would wear European clothes, as was the fashion of the day--a point to which I will return), the ceremonial visit was replaced by an informal one that also introduced Browne to the harem classrooms where the girls were trained in music and dancing. As Walker notes, theirs was an insight that had been granted to few foreign ladies. In the classroom, where they saw "the most effective, because 'unconscious' subjects," Walker and Browne "sat for some time watching the groups so fascinating to an artist, and soon afterwards the art exhibitions of Paris and London were graced by the works of [Browne's] delicate brush, chiefly inspired by the thoughtful studies made in this serai on the Bosphorus."

Browne's two paintings A Visit (Harem Interior, Constantinople, 1860) and A Flute Player (Harem Interior, Constantinople, 1860) were initially exhibited in the 1861 Paris Salon and caused, first, surprise and, subsequently, a stir.30

The British Art Journal commented helplessly only that "'The Interior of the Harem' [pictures were] widely differing from the 'Soeurs de Charite' she ha[d] recently painted," but contemporary French critics discussed in more detail the fact that here was a female artist who had actually seen and portrayed a harem interior, whereas the male Orientalists of the day had merely worked on the basis of speculation. (31)


Browne's major contribution was that she debunked then-prevailing cultural and sexual myths about the harem as she delibidinized and domesticated the site, turning it from a primarily phallic into a gynocentric place. (32) The setting of Browne's painting A Visit is the rather sober and bare main reception hall of a probably moderately wealthy household. (33) Here a cadine (principal wife) welcomes, in a respectful display of mutual bows and salutations, her two guests, who seem to have just arrived, as they still wear feredges (outdoor cloaks) and the yashmak (veil), which they would be allowed to re-move indoors in the harem's all-female community. A child--a most unusual sight in male harem paintings, unless portrayed as a slave, as in Gerome's Snake Charmer--accompanies the adults. (34) A number of female characters, who constitute the social network of the harem, witness the scene: some sit in groups on the typical low divan, while others stand around.

A Flute Player takes the visitor further into the harem and into what could actually have been the dance and music classrooms Browne and Walker saw. The young harem musician performs for what also seem to be recently arrived guests, as these women wear yashmaks, and at least one wears a feredge. The four older women on the left pay full attention to the musician, while the two younger girls on the right side of the painting are somewhat distracted by the movements of a tortoise crawling on a chest.

In many ways Browne domesticates and humanizes the harem, and she endows it with a woman's and a hitherto unseen perspective, giving actual information that no male painter or writer could have offered to the public. As poet, novelist, literary art critic, and fellow Constantinople traveler Theophile Gautier would write so enthusiastically in his Abecedaire du Salon de 1861:
"  Only women should go to Turkey"--
  What can a man see in this jealous
  country? White minarets
  guilloched fountains red shacks black
  cypresses mangy dogs hamals [sheep
  rams] loaded like camels caidjis
  [boatmen] in silk shirts cemeteries covered with marble
  or photographs and optical views. Nothing more.--For a woman
  in contrastthe odalisque opens itself
  the harem has no more mysteries; those
  faces doubtless charming
  for which the bearded tourist searches in
  vain under the muslin of the yachmak
  she contemplates stripped of
  their veil in all the brilliance
  of their beauty; the feredge a
  domino from Islam's permanent carnival
  could not conceal more gracio
  us bodies and splendid costumes. (35)

As his vocabulary suggests, Gautier builds his review on the truthful, ethnographic, objective information about the harem that Browne was able to provide in her paintings due to her privileged access--knowledge that he, of course, had not been granted during his own Turkish journey of 1853, which he detailed in his travelogue Constantinople of Today. "A Visit," he writes, "shows us at last the interior of a harem by one who has actually seen it, a rare thing and perhaps unique, because however well male painters often do make odalisques, not one is able to boast of having worked from nature." (36)

And here lies the reason why Browne managed to avoid controversy when she embarked on the potentially risque Orientalist genre and received almost exclusively praise: as a Western female she was allowed into the hidden space of the women's quarters, and these she apparently observed and documented with a painter's and a detached perspective. (37) It is at this point that we need to recall and adjust Melman's view about Western women "normalizing" and "humanizing" the Eastern harem. While the subject matter of Browne's paintings certainly makes an attempt to present the harem space as one of ordinary domestic activities, the painter's aesthetic execution still retains the impression of difference and remoteness. Note how the painter of A Visit and A Flute Player remains a distant and supposedly objective observer; at no moment does she enter into the harem painting or the harem scene: Browne's gaze remains detached in both cases, while she is both a consumer of the scene and an agent of its representation. Her two paintings highlight the presence of the Western observer, although the observer remains invisible. She witnesses and portrays a welcome scene between Turkish women, and she observes a musical performance, but she does not participate in either. Unsurprisingly, Gautier's review of A Flute Player thus also remains detached and ethnographic:
  A Flute Player initiates us into the diversions of the harem
  Draped in white muslin a young musician
  plays on a derviche's flute one of those melodies
  of strange charm which seizes you as if invisibly
  and you recall the memories of airs
  heard in a previous existence; three
  women cadines or odalisques are listening
  leaning against the wall in an attitude
  of ecstatic dreaming One of the
  flute player's companions recognizable by
  her guzla [a string instrument] teases
  a tortoise to crawl along on a stool
  A third musician watches her do it (38)

The painter (and subsequently, the critic and the viewer) remains as a detached witness outside the scene, as gazes cross between individual women within the paintings, while no such connection is established between the Turkish subjects and the painter.

Critic Joyce Zonana has suggested that depictions of the Turkish harem by nineteenth-century Western women ignited feelings of sisterhood across ethnic boundaries, as they established a feminist discourse that analogized the oppression of Islamic women with that of Western women. However, no such argument can be made for Browne's depictions. (39) Her scenes may resemble a typical courtesy call or music recital in a Jane Austen novel, but the subjects are culturally displaced--a fact Gautier, too, established through his invocation of local expressions. Distance and difference between the painter and her subjects are at all times preserved, as Reina Lewis, too, argues, and "the insistence on the difference between women (Occidental and Oriental) effectively [also] marks the female spectator (both Browne and the painting's audience) as Western and other to the female subjects of the painting." (40) Browne's paintings were acceptable to the audience as they provided documentary evidence of actually witnessed harem visits and entertainment, without crossing the East-West divide through the suggestion that the painter had participated in, or was inviting the audience to participate in, such scenes. East remained East, and West remained West, in Browne's oeuvre, and loyalty to the depiction of the object in a most convincing and faithful manner seems to have been Browne's intention.

If the harem interior was thus an acceptable topic because it was documentary, so was Browne's style, which remained wholly realist, as in her convent painting, and which could be seen in the detached painter's gaze, her empiricism, the convincing spatial effects, and the rational, restrained, almost invisible brushstrokes that do not reveal the artist's hand. To me the choice of colors, particularly in A Visit, also continues the tradition that had made Browne famous: the understated red, blue, and yellow pastels are reminiscent of religious paintings, like Fra Angelico's San Marco altarpiece, and Browne's cross-reference to the religious tradition may have been far from unintentional. She remained in the Western, realist, and religious tradition and--as the reviewer T. Chasrel concluded in summary--feminine. He would retrospectively call Browne's revision of the harem her own feminine contribution to, and revision of, the Orientalist tradition:
  [Browne] has added a new note to the rich and varied scale of
  Orientalist painting--a feminine note with all the delicacy,
  all the drama, and all the distinction that give the impression
  of a woman adding to the essence of art. This addition is but
  a semi-tone or even, if you like, a quarter-tone to [our] Oriental
  gifts, but this quarter-tone belongs to the artist, who has
  had the good fortune to penetrate some of the mysteries of
  the intimate life of the orient and the talent to turn to painting's
  profit the womanly privileges of discovery she gained. (41)

Browne's paintings were celebrated, as they were novel and broke with the male Orientalist tradition in terms of the documentary, truthful subjects of domesticity and a female community. At the same time they were uncontro-versial in terms of style; consequently, the painter's reputation among critics, as a serious and feminine artist, was at no time under threat.

There is a feature in this line of argument, however, that somewhat complicates the neat classification of Browne as documentary, realist, conscious of cultural binaries, and still feminine, as both Gautier and Chasrel established in their celebratory reviews, and it is here that the exotic must return as a critical paradigm. Gautier may applaud Browne's intimate knowledge of the harem, but he concludes his review with a nod to the opposite, fantastic-imaginary tradition of the Orient's representation: the artist, he writes, "has made the dreams we created come true," and she has "told news of the Orient that are fresher than those in A Thousand and One Nights" (42) Likewise, critic Olivier Merson refers in his review back to these popular images of the Orient, and in contrast to Gautier and Chasrel he believes that Browne's paintings fail exactly because she revises such familiar cultural and gendered conceptions:
  Having been able to clear the threshold of the harems
 [Browne] painted from nature those strange and
  jealous interiors This then is the harem
  Instead of diamond palaces and rejuvenated Alhambras
  Marble basins and gushing fountains
  sumptuous rugs and naked odalisques
  rolling about in their pearled costumes
  on piles of cushions or mosaics
  we see a room that is austere and serious
  withoutornamentation with colonnettes
  and whitewashed walls a mat unwinding
  on the flags a divan dominating all around
  and populated with silent women bored
  somnolently graceful chaste in the muslin of their long
  robes that outline their fragile and languid bodies
  I confess that [Browne's two] pictures
  disturb our Oriental dreams a little It is true
  if the artist had painted the seraglio of a
  Grand-Seigneur perhaps we would have
  been less disappointed perhaps we would
  rediscover the voluptuous setting
  that sensual and breathtaking luxury
  that permeates the stories of
  A Thousand and One Nights (43)

Browne's two harem interior paintings disappoint Merson's horizon of expectations, and the rest of his review moves from his hope that Browne perhaps only portrayed one specific household, which would leave room for an Arabian Nights fantasy after all, to an outright and unwarranted condemnation of Browne's artistic blunders in terms of her coloring and use of shade. Browne is, in Merson's book, too realistic, too chaste, too boring, and too feminine; he seems to have preferred another depiction of a sultan's willful violence, lavish possessions, and sexual powers, as in Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus.

This is the moment where the fluid exotic helps to explain this seeming contradiction between a documentary agenda and an imaginative vision. Lewis's reading of Browne's paintings builds on the argument of Browne's breaking with Orientalist cliche through a realistic, documentary representation, while Mary Roberts emphasizes that many female harem representations of the period, in both travel writing and painting, and including Browne's, are in fact still a rich source of feminine fantasy. (44) I too believe that Browne oscillates between the two reference points of the exotic, namely loyalty to the object on the one side and loyalty to the subjective artistic process on the other, the latter being the work of the imagination and an expression of the desire for compositions and not merely mimetic reproductions. Bohrer's study of exoticist artifacts in the West is built on the premise that such artifacts met with a variety of preexisting cultural and artistic expectations, which determined a painting's or sculpture's success, and Bohrer insists that an Oriental representation had to preserve some preexisting features in order to succeed and be considered exotic in the first place. (45)

If we have already questioned the validity of Melman's thesis about the Western painter's normalizing and humanizing of the Ottoman women's quarters, a closer look at Browne's harem interior paintings reveals that a number of fantasy elements have been retained, for aesthetic purposes but probably also for purposes of reception and in order to avoid a negative response like Merson's. In A Visit stock Orientalist features of an Eastern interior remain prominent, like the lattice-screened windows, the arches and columns, and the low-level seating. (46) Yashmaks, feredges, and the Turkish curved slippers of a woman's dress are there, as are the black slave, the cigarette, and the coffee pot. All these stock Turkish components are united in one scene, signifying Turkish difference. They are also portrayed with much detail, revealing the painter's joy in the depiction of such Orientalist surfaces.

In A Flute Player we see a similar delight in the painter's presentation of Arabic writing on the wall, unfamiliar musical instruments, and unusual pets. Browne's desire to signal cultural difference, which renders the painting Orientalist, is present to the point where she even commits what Lewis calls an ethnographic error: the three visitors who listen to the musical performance would, inside the harem classrooms, have relieved themselves of their yashmaks and feredges, but Browne's own fantasy and desire to portray an Oriental music scene that differs from an English drawing-room recital seems to have taken the upper hand. (47)

More important than Browne's drawing on the large pool of cliched iconic Orientalist features, however, are in this context the respective compositions of the two paintings. A Visit itself may constitute the center of the painting, its theme and main focal point. However, it is striking that the gaze of the majority of harem women in this painting is not directed toward the central welcoming scene, but elsewhere. The gaze of the woman on the left of the painting, who leans against the wall smoking a cigarette, and the gazes of the women on the divan, and of the two women standing in front of it, are directed to the right side of the painting, where a black servant, who seems to have come in with the guests, carries a cushion toward the divan. The servant looks over her shoulder, into the space behind her, at something that catches the attention of the harem women, also including the woman clad in blue at the right bottom corner of the painting and the woman in the far background on the steps.

Significantly, whatever all these women look at, in the dark space out of which the visitors have approached toward the hostess, remains a mystery and, indeed, "hidden" in the most literal sense of the word harem. Despite Browne's historical and verifiable access to an actual Ottoman harem, and despite the documentary realist nature of her paintings, which debunk a number of cultural and gender myths by portraying the harem as domestic and social, she in the end preserves a central cliche about the harem, which is that of its mystery. And the same holds true for A Flute Player: the prominent curtain, which makes up a third of the background behind the musician, remains drawn. The viewers never learn what instills these women's curiosity behind the body of the female slave, and they will never see the curtain open. Browne may have opened the door to the harem and pulled the veils off (some of) its women's faces, revealing some of the harem's mysteries, as Chasrel wrote, but she refuses to unveil all the mysteries that might strip these scenes of their Orientalist or exoticist character.

In conclusion we can say that Browne adheres to principles of documentation, but with a discernible nod to the established tradition of so-called Orientalist paintings and the expected viewer horizon: the harem's secret must be preserved, and perhaps even a sense of its sensual and sexual titillation, as Browne's 1869 painting Nubian Dancers, Assouan suggests.

Here the two central dancers practice an obvious coquetry with the musicians and the painting's spectators, respectively, through alluring body poses and provocative stares. Although they are more fully clad and less decollete than female dancers would be in conventional male Orientalist representations, their intention to entertain is unambiguous. Browne once more oscillates between a documentary intention and subjective aesthetic choices in terms of selection, foregrounding, and combination, the latter heavily influenced by concerns about the paintings' reception. Hers is fluid and constant negotiation between different reference points and principles, which exoticism captures more appropriately than Orientalism does.

Because of her background as a painter of religious scenes and her reputation as an objective realist and feminine artist, Browne could venture into the so far male-dominated and supposedly risque tradition of Orientalist, or rather exoticist, painting. Perceived to be staying largely within acceptable aesthetic, cultural, and gender conventions, this midcentury French painter opened, in the most respectable and respected manner, the door for the next generation of female painters of Oriental and harem representations. Furthermore, introducing the ideas of domesticity and female sociability into the repository of Oriental harem scenes, she also opened the door for subsequent female painters to make such representations as popular as the scenes of bathing beauties or languid odalisques had been.



Of the two painters discussed in this essay Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann is perhaps the more complex. On the one hand her Orientalist paintings are indebted to the work of her predecessor Browne, and especially the Frenchwoman's success in opening up a hitherto male-dominated genre to female painters, by revealing that women who had actually visited an Eastern seraglio could offer alternative scenes than those imagined by male painters. At the same time, however, the Polish-Danish painter's oeuvre distances itself rather sharply from Browne's purportedly "realistically feminine" agenda. Jerichau-Baumann was fully cognizant of what she had encountered in an Eastern harem but also scrupulously aware of what her European audiences and buyers desired to see, and her harem paintings move back and forth between a woman's intimate knowledge of the harem, documentation, imagination and attention to her audience to the point where they create, as Lewis writes, "a problem big enough to destabilize the overall classification of the artist and her work, something that other women Orientalists generally manage to avoid." (48) The exoticist paradigm is once again more useful to explore such oscillation, paradox, and hybridity, which transgress the neat binaries of (Saidian) Orientalism.

Jerichau was born in Warsaw, to German parents; educated at various art academies in Berlin, Dusseldorf, and Rome; and found a permanent home in Denmark in 1849, with her husband, Jens Adolf, the acclaimed Danish sculptor and later president of the Royal Danish Academy, of which Elisabeth, too, would become a member in 1861. She was seen as technically skilled, as her celebrated portraits of Danish celebrities like Hans Christian Andersen and King Christian IX's wife, Louise, and her children show. However, on the whole considered too "European" by Danish art circles, which then hailed the nationalist character of art, Jerichau learned to embrace her own biographical and aesthetic cross-culturalism and found a niche in the Orientalist genre. Various pleasure trips with her husband in Persia, the Middle East, and North Africa in the 1850s were followed by more targeted journeys to "the East" in search of artistic material. In 1869-70 and 1874-75 Jerichau--now accompanied by one of her sons, due to her husband's duties at the Royal Academy--returned to Turkey, Greece, and Egypt, the main sites for Orientalist motifs. In November 1869 she entered the Constantinople harem, where she met the young princess who would become the object of Jerichau's personal and artistic fascination and the subject of several paintings. The painter had traveled to Constantinople with the firm determination to be admitted to a royal harem and paint portraits of its inhabitants, and a letter of introduction from Alexandra, Princess of Wales, who had come through the Ottoman Empire with the Prince of Wales on their grand tour in early 1869 and who had become friends with the khedive's niece, Princess Nazili, helped her succeed. (49) In Jerichau's determination to succeed, an artistic vision merged with shrewd business acumen, as Birgitte von Folsach suggests:
  In part a painting would probably be well paid for if the prince in
  question, the lord of the harem, turned up as a prospective buyer. In
  part it would undoubtedly be of interest to a European public, which,
  as we know, was accustomed to harem scenes executed by men who for
  good reason had never seen such an establishment and therefore,
  understandably enough, exclusively painted imaginary scenes. Finally,
  the possibility cannot be excluded that in spite of her
interest in and sympathy for the position of Turkish women,
  [Jerichau-Baumann] was liable to the fascination and
  yearning that were especially prevalent
  tendencies in orientalism: the harem as closed-off, mystical, and
  sensuous world. (50)

In this quotation a desire to document is already revealed as in conflict with a personal inclination to fantasize about the harem--a tendency heightened by Jerichau's desire to succeed artistically and financially. These contradictions become visible in her paintings, as we will see, and also in her travelogue Brogede Reisebilleder (Motley Images of Travel) of 1881, which introduces the first encounter between the painter and her sitter Nazili, but which was, in fact, (written and) published more than a decade after the actual event. (51) The problems that result from such temporal distance and the painter's/writer's orientation toward a public become visible from the very first scene, which relates how Jerichau enters the harem, equipped with some of her art, to introduce herself to the senior harem women and the princess.

The encounter must in reality have created much anxiety for the painter, as there was no certainty at this point that the senior harem women would grant the painter her wish to paint the young princess. As Mary Adelaide Walker's thirty-year experience with harem portrayals shows, such an endeavor was complicated for a variety of reasons. First of all, portrait painting was rare in Islamic culture in any case, because of the traditional prohibition of figural representation, and the convention spread only gradually from the court to wealthy families. (52) Second, only Westernized families would experiment with the Western tradition of three-dimensional portraiture, which differed from their own two-dimensional miniature tradition. Walker notes instances in her memoirs where her sitter did not like the shading she had incorporated for a depth and reality effect, and the painter was forced to reduce "the softening tones ... to imbecile weakness, in short, I yielded, spoilt my work, and contented my model." (53) Third, female portraiture was especially unusual given that the law of the veil prohibited the public visibility of Islamic harem women, and the permission to paint an uncovered face was thus not only exceptional but also only granted to female artists. Given this adherence to Islamic cultural precepts, it was necessary, as Walker writes, "to execute the whole work within the harem, even to the last finishing touch of varnishing and framing--a labour of difficulty and fatigue rarely undertaken by a lady artist in the case of very large canvases." (54) And obviously, after such efforts the portrait of the harem woman would also only be exhibited in the harem itself and furthermore be veiled at all times, so that "it be hidden from the gaze even of the men who perform the rough work of the house." (55) Islamic and harem rules posed restrictions, but painters in the end generally conceded, as the only other option to the portrait being done according to conventions and the sitter's wishes was that it not be done at all, and as Walker writes, "I could not risk the 'not at all.'" (56)

If harem portrait paintings thus came with very real challenges, Jerichau condenses these concerns in her travelogue in the figure of Nazili's mother, Bukana, whose skepticism and objections the painter interprets and ridicules as superstitious, xenophobic, and revealing a lack of intelligence. In the end Jerichau triumphs and is allowed to portray Nazili; "the plan worked, the fortress was surrendered." (57) The more important issue that emerges in Jerichau's travelogues, however, is of a different nature. It is not concerned with historical, cultural, and actual limitations, but with representational ones, and these take us back to the issue of the painter's entrapment between objective observation and documentation and her subjective artistic vision. The beginning of the encounter between Jerichau and the harem women reads as follows:
  I had promised to show Nazili Hanum [my] pictures
  It was an exhibition
  of a particular kind Two and two of
  e often pretty female slaves held each of the rolled
  t paintings; the small paintings were in frames
   think that this way of exhibiting would even have created a
  sensation in Paris which is overfilled with paintings
  here they would have possibly found
  e live easels more interesting than the pictures
  emselves and they would especially
  t have noticed the pictures for the beautiful
  incesses of the harem who admired them
 Here however it was the other way around
 Here it was the first time that man's artistic
  imitation of the human face and of all the
  phenomenal appeared to these beautiful harem eyes
  It was such a naive quite primitive uncritical
  admiration that was given to my work One of the ladies
  tried to touch a piece of painted golden jewellery
  another touched the silk dress of the
  portrait of the Princess of Wales that was of special
  interest to those who had met her during her
  stay in ConstantinopleThereafter it was the
  pictures of my three blonde daughters that
  pleased them These and a little girl from the Island of Amager
  ... fwerel passed from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth and
   kissed and this latter painting became the favourite of the harem
   just as another painting representing an
  Italian mother breastfeeding her child (58)

Relating with humor the unusual display of her paintings and the alternative priorities of the harem women, a self-confident Jerichau turns the scene into an exotic spectacle for her European audience. As Roberts suggests, the painter positions herself as an intermediary between East and West, harem women and European audience. She sets, through her own subjective translation and representation of the scene, which expresses clearly her own enchantment and fascination, the stage for the arrival of the beautiful princess, which the European reader must at this point anticipate as much as the painter herself did. The encounter becomes in retrospect less an actual encounter (with real challenges, such as gaining permission to paint) than a tableau or spectacle, which an already successful Western painter of Orientalist scenes describes and paints for her audience. (59)

The same conflict between documentation and artistic interpretation--all with an eye to a recipient--characterizes the representation of Princess Nazili, in both text and image. Nazili is now called in to meet the painter:
  Nazli Hanum was then 15 years old, but quite grown up. She was a
  strange mix of Oriental and European influence. Thus her movements
  were rounded, soft, elastic, slow and yet as sneaky and powerful as a
  panther's movements. Her elongated almond-shaped black fringed eyes
  were light blue, languishing and wild with very big black pupils and
  this same eye could burn and throw sparks while she listened to what I
  told her. ... In Nazili's dress the influence of Parisian fashion was
  clearly traced; with a black dress in silk grenadine, embroidered with
  coloured silk flowers that only just hid the wide harem pants that
  apparently had modified the Paris-cut of her dress.
  Her tasteful, light turban, decorated with
  three yellow feathers, and her long dark silk
  veil ... embroidered with gold and coloured silk and fringes in
  gold ... surrounded her fine face, that was enclosed in waves of her
  well-kept hazelnut-blond hair which loosely fell down her shoulders
  and surrounded her velvety cheeks without any
  makeup to disfigure them.The mouth was exceptionally
  small During this my first visit I received a very
  positive impression of this interesting young creature, [of her]
  loving grace, female dignity and Oriental "prestige." ... This,
  combined with a thorough European upbringing, was however not
  completely able to eradicate the Turk in her and gave her a divine,
  enchanting appearance, and this creature, so clean and yet so
  glowing, had been raised in a harem. (60)

Nazili emerges as--then increasingly common in higher social circles--a Westernized young Ottoman woman, who speaks several European languages, dresses according to the latest Parisian fashion, and is overall the incarnation of grace and beauty. Such a divine creature would, one would hope with the painter, be fascinating as a subject for a painting in any case. Note, however, how such desire to document is constantly combined by Jerichau with stereotypical Orientalist images: Nazili displays the movements of a panther, her eyes are those of the untamed beast, and despite her Western upbringing she is still fully Turk. In Jerichau's retrospective travelogue the princess is seen through preexisting ideals of the odalisque of Western fantasy, but with the added twist and fascination that this odalisque has been educated in Western ideas, but is nevertheless forced to remain in her gilt cage: "Oh Nazili, to be compelled to languish amongst Barbarians! You swelling rosebud surrounded by thorns; you only have an inkling that you look like a genuine pearl hidden between the hard, tightly closed leaves of the maternal shell! What will be your fate?"61 Such tragedy and East-West hybridity make Nazili an even more ideal subject for Jerichau's art and, she must have hoped, for her audience, on whose familiarity with and liking for stock Orientalist tropes she counts when describing Nazili through Arabian Nights references.

Three paintings were produced from the sittings in 1869-70. The first, portraying Nazili in her hybrid mix of French and Ottoman clothing, was given to the Princess of Wales, Jerichau's patron and Nazili's friend. The second portrait of the princess, in, as Jerichau calls it, her "true harem costume," the painter was allowed to keep. The third portrait, "with her hair let down, her eyes turned up just like an angel," was presented to Nazili. (62)

Unfortunately, none of these paintings can currently be located, but Jerichau's descriptions are significant. The painting for Princess Alexandra touches upon an issue that became increasingly challenging for female harem painters, which Walker too mentions, namely the harem women's craze for Western and particularly Parisian fashion, which they saw as a sign of both their modernity and their fashionability. Walker laments at several points in her diary that she was forced to portray harem women in Paris-cut dresses, which she objected to but could not influence:
  A handsome crimson velvet bodies trimmed with white lace, shapely and
  stiff with whalebone. Ah! How much more fascinating would be the easy
  flowing cotton "guidjelik" in which she [here a woman called Emine
  Hanum] usually indulges, than this ungraceful buckram attire! But it
  is "a la franca." I sigh and submit. (63)

And as fashion was changing, Walker was even occasionally called back into a harem after several years to update the dress worn in the portrait. (64) Given Jerichau's inclination to lean on an Oriental fantasy rather than fact, as visible in her travelogue, it is unsurprising that she would have wanted to keep the representation of Nazili in "true" harem style for herself, rather than the one in Westernized mode. This "truly Oriental" painting would in later years form the basis for the fantasy Nazili representations, as will be shown. To complete the discussion of Jerichau's descriptions of the three paintings, the third painting, symbolizing Nazili's purity, grace, and modesty through averted eyes and an angelic composition, would have been an appropriate one to be kept by the sitter and exhibited in her own circle.

Jerichau thus took two paintings back to England and decided--most certainly without Nazili's knowledge, as the public display of a Muslim woman's portrait would not have found her family's approval--to exhibit them in an 1871 exhibition of her works in the New Bond Street Gallery. And here the oscillation of the representations between documentation and imagination and artistry would completely confuse the Art Journal reviewer, who found the paintings unacceptable, and, or rather because, he struggled to categorize them.

Let us at this point turn to the Nazili paintings that are available, namely The Princess Nazili Hanum (1875) and the Odalisque (n.d.), which also bears Nazili's features. (65) Jerichau returned to Turkey in 1874 and left, in Motley Images of Travel more descriptions of Smyrna and Constantinople. However, she most probably did not return to Nazili's harem; given her disloyalty concerning the unsanctioned London exhibition, she was probably too smart to do so. Her return to the Ottoman Empire, however, inspired a series of what Roberts calls "fantasy paintings," including the two we have of Nazili. (66) Although painted about five years after the first visit, these two images give an idea of the original portraits, their style, and what might consequently have induced the 1871 Art Journal reviewer to consider them unacceptable.

Surely more exaggerated than even the original second painting of the princess in her "true Oriental dress," which was most probably seen by Nazili and her family, The Princess Nazili Hanum stages, in Roberts's words, "a familiar western fantasy of the harem in which the odalisque is an alluring object of desire at the same time that her own desire is directed towards captivating the Western viewer." (67) Any concerns of hybridity, purity, or Westernization that we saw in the travelogue's depiction of Nazili are here absent. The Odalisque painting then takes the fantasy a step further by depicting the woman, who is now naked from the waist up, as not only sexually provocative but also vain, as she lovingly gazes into her own mirror image. With the Odalisque Jerichau has removed herself furthest from any documentary agenda, with which she might have started (following Browne), and as the generic title of the painting suggests, we have now also moved away from the historical individual to a harem type.

The Art Journal reviewer encountered the two original paintings of Nazili, in her hybrid dress and in "true Oriental" clothes, as part of a collection of Jerichau's work. This compilation featured paintings of children--for which the painter was well-known, as could also be seen by the excitement these representations caused in the Constantinople harem--as well as several mythical scenes from Norse folklore and a number of female portraits. The latter included a portrait of the Queen of Greece, of a Greek woman from Hymetos, of a woman with Italian features, and one or two portraying Egyptian Fellaheen women. While the reviewer manages to see "a woman's heart" in Jerichau's "remarkable" paintings of children, and a taste for the "epic" in her "wonderfully spirited" mythical art, he finds himself at a loss to appraise the portrayals of "eastern" women within such gendered concepts of sentiment, taste, modesty, or depth, which Browne's harem images conformed to. (68)

Concerning one of the Nazili images, he writes that "'The Favourite of the Harem: an oil picture, declares itself at once a veritable study from Oriental life. All attempts at the improvisation of Hareem [sic] beauty by painters and poets have been very wide of the truth, as we learn from this and all other genuine representations of so-called eastern beauty." At the same time that an attempt is made to declare Jerichau's paintings realist, however, the reviewer sees a feature in Jerichau's portrayals that he says is "by no means common to woman's work." He explicitly comments, with reference to her Eastern portrayals, on the "masculine quality of Madame Jerichau's works" This confusion and inability to neatly classify her oeuvre lead him, at the end of his article, to resort to a second, gendered celebration of Jerichau's personal love of children (she and her husband had eight of their own), visible in her representations, which are always full of "earnest and warm devotion " The female portrayals are, however, unacceptable to the reviewer, in terms of their content (Eastern women), their style (immodest), and their overall gendering (done by a "masculine" hand). A translation of these observations onto the Nazili fantasy paintings can help elaborate this judgment and also reveal the unstable character of Jerichau's exoticist paintings.

In terms of content a provocative, sexual "Princess Nazili Hanum" reclines on a bed, clad in a transparent, clingy harem costume, and offering, without excuse, her shapely legs and bosom. This is a sexual odalisque, an object of desire, and a woman who herself indulges in desire, as she holds a cigarette in one hand and sensuously strokes a pet monkey--a traditional sex symbol--with the other. This is in fact a representation not far removed from the male Orientalist tradition. "Princess Nazili" loves her luxurious lifestyle, depicted in the cliched wealth of jewelry, cushions and throws, coffee, and the black slave who suggests--in this setting--the odalisque's leisure. (69) As Rana Kab-bani argues in another context,
  The nude or semi-clothed woman in the
  Orientalist painting is made more erotic by
  her surroundings of material objects, by the cushions,
  hangings, sofas, vessels, fans, bottles, garments and musical
  instruments which the viewer's eye is made to take in The woman's
  revealed body becomes startling and arousing in contrast with a
  well-dressed room. (70)

The "odalisque" is another cocotte: her nakedness suggests her sexual availability to men; the luxurious goods that surround her suggest moral fickleness and vanity, as the bourgeois Dorothea Brooke reminds her younger sister Celia in a lecture on character and asceticism in Middlemarch; and last but not least, the odalisque's self-satisfied smile into the handheld mirror signifies superbia, which the nineteenth-century audience would have known to be a cardinal sin.

If the "odalisque" is more interested in herself than in the viewer, who is kept at a distance--but whose voyeuristic gaze she clearly does not mind--"Nazili Hanum" crosses the distance between audience and viewed harem woman by drawing the observer into the frame of the painting. Browne preserved the aesthetic and cultural distance and remained a European woman who documented Turkish domestic otherness. In contrast Jerichau crosses this aesthetic, cultural, and ideological East-West divide: "Nazili"'s whiteness, which she shares with her Western spectators, is enhanced by the blackness of the slave in the background, as she beckons the viewer to identify with and participate in her sexual and sensual offerings. Distance, which the Victorian reviewer would have understood and accepted in a painting of an ethnically different woman, here turns into a disturbing aesthetic and cultural proximity.

To further elaborate on issues of technique, Jerichau's harem paintings are at the other end of the spectrum when one compares their style with what the reviewers considered Browne's acceptably modest and sober brush stroke and pastel colors. There is an impassioned brio in Jerichau's painting surfaces: she uses, as von Folsach characterizes it, a "warm, dense colour scheme" and makes the most of the oil colors, compared to Browne's cooler, less intense pastels, which could very well have been crayon. (71) Jerichau's brush strokes are far from sober, but "saccharine and pathetic." (72) They are also far from modest and declare the painter's tempestuous self-involvement and her very subjective, outpouring perspective, which is the opposite of Browne's dispassionate stance. If Browne's art was acceptable because seen as overall realist and feminine, Jerichau's oeuvre is fantastic, full of the imagination and of artistic transformations.

Translating such considerations into conceptions of femininity, as the nineteenth-century reviewer would have done when confronted with Jerichau's paintings, could only result in bewilderment: the choice of questionable subjects, nudity, and the expression of desire and immorality, all combined with subjective artistry, had to be "masculine" Let it be noted in passing, however, that this review and the unfeminine label did not in the least hurt Jerichau or impact her continuing success. Still, the Art Journal reviewer is baffled. Conscious of Jerichau's reputation and her Danish Royal Academy membership, and also aware of her having been compared at times with Browne through the common choice of Orientalist subject matter, he can only think of one strategy to understand and "rescue" Jerichau's female portrayals of "eastern women": he declares and classifies them as "pronouncedly ethnographical" and as depicting "nationality." (73)

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. Unfortunately, this undertaking is beyond the limits of this essay. Suffice it to say in conclusion to my analysis of Browne's and Jerichau's Constantinople harem paintings that this aesthetic instability results from the overall volatility of Orientalist representations, the observation with which I began this essay: the "Exotic Mirage" fails to ever fully resolve the conflict between the two loyalties of objective documentation and subjective aesthetics, especially if we also add the additional, also destabilizing problem of the audience and their horizon of expectations.

This essay has revealed a complex set of differences in terms of both the poly-semic nature of paintings dealt with and also critical reading. As Lewis concludes in her essay "Women Orientalist Artists," "the different strands of Orientalist representation produced, and understood to be produced by, women artists expand the parameters of Orientalist representation at the same time as they undercut the theories that we use to analyze them." (77) While we may say that in terms of both subject matter and aesthetics, female Orientalist artists on the whole developed the conventions and parameters of the then male-dominated genre, we still need to scrutinize what shape this development takes in the individual case. The supposedly "documentary" and "feminine" project to "normalize" and "humanize" the Eastern harem is full of contradiction in Browne, and it adopts forms in Jerichau's work that have been called "masculine" by contemporary reviewers and "fantastic" by later scholars.



As I have suggested in this essay, one way of dealing with this problem that so-called Orientalist paintings pose is to employ the exotic paradigm, which works with the notion of conflicting loyalties and instability in the first place. Analyzing the female strand of so-called Orientalist paintings through the exotic shows, I think, particularly clearly the boundless connections in the shifting processes by which these paintings and their subjects are aestheticized, politicized, sexualized, racialized, and gendered.


I want to take this opportunity to thank the two anonymous readers for Frontiers whose astute observations, critical comments, and cross-references have greatly enriched this essay.

(1.) Philippe Jullian, The Orientalists: European Painters of Eastern Scenes (Oxford: Phaidon, 1977). 19.

(2.) See, e.g., Roger Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880-1930 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2003); Roger Benjamin, Orientalism: Delacroix to Klee (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2003); Semra Germaner and Zeynep Inankur, Constantinople and the Orientalists (Istanbul: Isbank, 2002); Gerard-Georges Lemaire, The Orient in Western Art, with a preface by Genevieve Lacambre (Paris: Meng&s, 2000; Cologne: Kone-niann, 2001).

(3.) Roger Benjamin, "Introduction," in Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics, 281.

(4.) Linda Nochlin, "The Imaginary Orient," in Linda Nochlin, The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 33-59.

(5.) See, for a rather uncritical use of the term, Eastern Encounters: Orientalist Painters of the Nineteenth Century (London: Fine Art Society, 1978), 7; Caroline Juler, "Preface" in Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings (London: Manara, 1991), 3; Donald A. Rosenthal, Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting 1800-1880 (Rochester, NY: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1982), 8,155; Mary Anne Stevens, "Western Art and Its Encounters with the Islamic World, 1798-1914," in The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse: European Painters in North Africa and the Near East, ed.Mary Anne Stevens (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1984), 15-39, 15, 17, 18; Michelle Verrier, "Introduction;' in The Orientalists: All Colour Paperback (London: Academy, 1979), vii-ix, viii; James Thompson, "Mapping the Mind: The Quest for Eastern Metaphors and Meaning," in James Thompson, The East: Imagined, Experienced, Remembered: Orientalist Nineteenth Century Painting, with an essay by David Scott (Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 1988), 18-35, 19; Lynne Thornton, "Introduction," in Lynne Thornton, The Orientalists: Painter-Travellers (Paris: ACR, 1983), 13-23,17.

(6.) Peter Mason, Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 2.

(7.) See Frederick N. Bohrer, Orientalism and Visual Culture: Imagining Mesopotamia in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

(8.) See Mason, Infelicities, chaps. 3 and 5.

(9.) See Michel Thevoz, "L'orient: Fantasme et realite," in Michel Thevoz, tacademisme et ses fantasmes: Le realisme imaginaire de Charles Gleyre (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1980), 75-94. Thevoz sees Gleyre's oeuvre as constantly shifting between a desire for documentation and a desire for imagination, for truth and fantasy: "une precision documentaire," "une objectivite tout a fait remarquable" (85), "la valeur 'ethnographique'" (86), "leur caractere de fidelite, d'absolue veracite" (86): all these constantly mingle with fantasy and the desire for "compositions": "deni de la realite" (88),"[la peinture] conforme au fantasme europeen de I"Orientale'" (89). See Olivier Richon, "Representation, the Harem and the Despot," Block 10 (1985): 34-41. In Richon's essay the exoticist image stands at the furthest possible remove from the social and physical actuality of the East. An inner fantastical history emerges here, as compared to the outer history in Nochlin, as Richon questions a pure correspondence between exoticist image and reality.

(10.) Benjamin, "The Oriental Mirage," in Benjamin, Orientalism, 7-31,7: "The 'Oriental Mirage' is thus a phrase that captures an important principle, a metaphor for the way travelling artists have an unstable view of their subject....The 'Oriental Mirage'... is the impossibility of any artist obtaining full knowledge of the cultural Other that forms his or her subject." Some exhibition catalogs also mention the instability of the exotic representation. See Rosenthal, Orientalism; Verrier, "Introduction"; Stevens, "Western Art," 15.

(11.) See Genevieve Lacambre, "Preface;' in Lemaire, Orient in Western Art, 7-16, 8.

(12.) See Reina Lewis, Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 115.

(13.) For short biographical accounts see Clara Erskine Clement's collection of female painters' biographies in Women in the Fine Arts, from the Seventh Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D. (1904),

(14.) Lynne Thornton, Women as Portrayed in Orientalist Painting (Paris: ACR, 1994), 20.

(15.) Meyda Yegenoglu, Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism, Cambridge Cultural Social Studies Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 46. See also Billie Meiman on the political and gendered aspects of the harem: Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718-1918: Sexuality, Religion and Work (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 60.

(16.) Whether Orientalist paintings facilitated the onward march of imperialism, as Nochlin suggests in "The Imaginary Orient" is not a concern in this essay The reader may in this context read John MacKenzie's Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995).

(17.) Alev Lytle Croutier, Harem: The World Behind the Veil (New York: Abbeville Press, 1993); Leslie Peirce, The Imperial Harem: Woman and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

(18.) See Emily Apter's criticism of male accounts of the harem, both then and now, which, she argues, can present nothing but fictions when the critic or observer stays, critically and actually, "outside" the harem. Emily Apter, "Female Trouble in the Colonial Harald): Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 4, no. 1 (i992)' 205-24. Apter urges the critic and the analysis to go "inside" the harem to reveal "the truth."

(19.) Melman, Women's Orients, 60-61.

(20.) A.B., "Madame Henriette Brown [sic]" English Woman's Journal 1 (1860): 85-92, 85. For a biographical sketch see Dictionary of Women Artists, ed. Delia Gaze, 2 vols. (London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997), 1: 326-27; Charlotte Yeldham, Women Artists in Nineteenth-Century France and England: Their Art Education, Exhibition Opportunities and Membership of Exhibiting Societies and Academies, with an Assessment of the Subject Matter of their Work and Summary Biographies, 2 vols. (New York and London: Garland, 1984), i, 345-50.

(21.) See Lewis's excellent analysis of Browne's work in Gendering Orientalism, particularly chap. 3 (85-26), which explains in detail Browne's rather startling progression from religious to Orientalist paintings.

(22.) Linda Nochlin, "Some Women Realists," in Linda Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), 86-108,87-88.

(23.) A.B.,"Madame Henriette Brown [sic]," 89.

(24.) Charles Kingsley, "Henrietta [sic] Browne's Picture of The Sisters of Charity," Fine Arts Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1863): 299-307, 299,306.

(25.) Kingsley, "Henrietta [sic] Browne's Picture," 301; A.B., "Madame Henriette Brown [sic] "85.

(26.) A.B., "Madame Henriette Brown [sic]," 88, 86.

(27.) Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists," in Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power, 145-76, 149. See also Nunn on how nineteenth-century women artists were evaluated by virtues of sex rather than skill and how descriptions through notions of sentiment and delicacy abounded. Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Victorian Women Artists (London: Women's Press, 1987), particularly chap. 2.

(28.) A.B., "Madame Henriette Brown [sic]," 92.

(29.) Mrs [Mary Adelaide] Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery with Excursions in Asia Minor, Mytilene, Crete, and Roumania, 2 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1886), 1:10.

(30.) The original French titles were Une Visite (Intirieur de Harem, Constantinople, 186o) and Une Joueuse de Flute (Intirieur de Harem, Constantinople, 1860. See A Visit at The image is also reproduced in The Lure of the East, ed. Nicholas Tromans, with essays by Rana Kabbani, Fatema Mernissi, Christine Riding, and Emily M. Weeks (London: Tate Publishing, 2008), 131.

(31.) Anonymous, "The French Exhibition," Art Journal 5 (n.s.) (May 1862): 126.

(32.) See Apter's analysis of female artists' (specifically Isabelle Eberhardt's) reassessment of the harem as domestic and gynocentric, rather than sexual and phallic. See also Irene Fort about the domestication of the harem that came with female representations. Irene Fort, "Femme Fatale or Caring Mother? The Orientalist Women's Struggle for Dignity," in Picturing the Middle East: A Hundred Years of European Orientalism: A Symposium (New York: Danesh Museum, 1996), 39-51.

(33.) See Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, 140. In an article on the most recent exhibition of Browne's painting in the Tate Gallery's exhibition "The Lure of the East," Jackie Wullschlager describes the picture as follows: "[It depicts] a group of women lolling in a bare, bleak room, where boredom has become, chillingly, existential emptiness--just offset by the embarrassment with which the European artist depicts her own introduction to the harem." Wullschlager is unfortunately incorrect in everything but the description of the bareness of the reception hall: these are Eastern visitors, and not a Western artist who participates in the scene, and "boredom" is a too generalized category to capture the different activities and modalities that go on in the painting, as will be shown. See Jackie Wullschlager, "History's Hand Grenades: Tate's New Show of British Orientalist Paintings Tackles the Issue of Cultural Imperialism " Financial Times, June 7-8, 2008,13. Wullschlager is (unwittingly) correct, though, to see the combining of realism and fantasy in this picture, although she does not elaborate on it.

(34.) As a side note one may want to add that Gerome's painting is also full of phallic and erotic (specifically homoerotic) iconography. This supports my overall argument that Browne debunked the phallic-erotic nature of Orientalist painting--although The Snake Charmer, of course, does not depict the harem.

(35.) Theophile Gautier, Abecedaire du Salon de 1861 (Paris: Dentu, 1861), 72-73: "Les femmes seules devraient voyager en Turquie.--Que peut voir un homme dans ce pays jaloux? Des minarets blancs, des fontaines guillochees, des baraques roses, des cypres noirs, des chiens galeux, des hammals charges comme des chameaux, des caidjis a chemise de soie, des cimetieres plantes de pieux de marbre, des photographies ou des vues d'optiques. Rien de plus.--Pour une femme, au contraire, l'odalik s'ouvre, le harem n'a plus de mysteres; ces visages, charmants sans doute, que le touriste barbu cherche en vain a deviner sous la mousseline du yachmak, elle les contemple depouilles de leur voile, dans tout 1'eclat de leur beaute; le feredge, ce domino du carnaval perpetuel de 1'Islam, ne dissimule plus ces corps gracieux et ces costumes splendides"

(36.) Gautier, Abecedaire, 73-74: "Une Visite nous montre enfin l'interieur d'un harem par quelqu'un qui l'a vue, chose rare et peut-etre unique, car, bien que les peintres males fassent souvent des odalisques, aucun ne peut se vanter d'avoir travaille d'apres nature" (The travelogue of his experiences in the Ottoman Empire was published in France in 1853, under the title Constantinople; an English translation followed a year later. See Theophile Gautier, Constantinople of Today, trans. Robert Howe Gould (London: David Bogue, 1854).

(37.) See also Lewis, Gendering Orientalism,161-71, on the use of the gaze in Browne's two harem paintings. My argument is indebted to hers, although I do not use the cinematographic framework Lewis employs.

(38.) Gautier, Abecedaire, 75: '''Une Joueuse de flate' nous initie aux divertissements du harem. Drapee de mousseline blanche, une jeune musicienne joue sur la flute de derv-iche une de ces melodies au charme etrange qui s'emparent de vous si invinciblement, et vous rappellent le souvenir d'airs entendus dans des existences anterieures; trois femme cadines ou odalisques l'ecoutent appuyees au mur dans une attitude de reverie extasiee. Une des compagnes de la joueuse de flute, reconnaissable a sa guzla, agace une tortue se trainant sur un escabeau. Une troisieme musicienne la regarde faire."

(39.) See Joyce Zonana, "The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre? Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18, no. 3 (1993): 592-617.

(40.) Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, 165.

(41.) T. Chasrel, "Henriette Browne," L'Art Revue Hebdomadaire Illustre 2 (1877) : 97-103,98: '[Browne,] qui ont ajout a la gamme si riche et variee de la peinture orientaliste une note nouvelle, la note feminine avec toute la delicatesse, tout le charme et toute la distinction qu'imphque l'idee de la femme ajoutee a la notion de l'art. L'addition n'est que d'un demi-ton, d'un quart de ton, si l'on veut, pour rester dans les donnees orientales, mais ce quart de ton appartient a l'artiste qui a cu la bonne fortune de penetrer quelques-uns des mystres de la vie intime de l'Orient, et le talent de faire tourner au profit de la peinture le privilege des decouvertes de la femme.' Translation adapted from Lewis, Gendering Orzentalism, 141-42.

(42.) Gautier, Abecedaire, 73: "Le rove que nous faisions, Mme Henriette Browne vient de le realiser; elk rapporte d'Orient des nouvelles plus fraiches que celles des Mille et uneNuits, auxquelles il fallait nous en tenir"

(43.) Olivier Merson, Exposition de 1861: La Peinture en France (Paris: Libraire de la Societe des Gens de Lettres, 1861), 275-76: "Mme Browne est allee k Constantinople. Ayant pu franchir le seuil des harems, elle a peint d'apres nature ces interieurs etranges et jaloux ... . Ainsi, voila le harem. Au lieu de palais de diamants et d'Alhambras rajeunis, de vasques de marbre et de fontaines jaillissantes, de tapis somptueux et d'odalisques nues se roulant dans les perles de leur parure, sur des piles de cousins ou sur des mosaiques, nous voyons une salle austere et grave, sans ornementation, avec des colonnettes et des murs blanchis A la chaux, une natte deroul^e sur les dalles, un divan regnant tout autour, et peuplee de femmes silencieuses, ennuyees, d'une grace somnolente, chastes dans la mousseline de leurs longues robes qui dessinent a peine leurs corps freles et languissants. J'avoue que ces tableaux derangent un peu nos reves orientaux. Si l'artiste, it est vrai, avait peint le serial du Grand-Seigneur, peut-etre se-rions-nous moins desappointes, peut-etre retrouverions-nous cette mise en scene voluptueuse, ce luxe sensuel et vertigineux dont sont imprEgnts les recits des Milk et une Nuits et que chantent les poetes dans leurs stances" (the English translation here is adapted from Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, 137).

(44.) See Lewis, Gendering Orientalism; Mary Roberts, "Contested Terrains: Women Orientalists and the Colonial Harem," in Orientalism's Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography, ed. Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002), 179-203,181: "Although Reina Lewis examines women's harem visits primarily as ethnographic accounts, I argue that they are not only ethnographic texts but a rich source of feminine fantasy"

(45.) "Through an emphasis on reception, we can most directly examine the construction of authenticity and the conditions that make the exoticist reference possible"; as artifacts are always a negotiation of an audience's horizon of expectations, they necessarily become "hybrid in terms of the authenticity of the resultant object, neither fully real nor fully unreal" (Bohrer, Orientalism and Visual Culture, 17,35).

(46.) For a critical overview of the Victorians' obsession with Orientalist architecture, artifacts, and interiors, see John Sweetman, The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in British and American Art and Architecture 1500-1920, Cambridge Studies in the History of Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Mark Crin-son, Empire Building: Orientalism and Victorian Architecture (London and New York: Routledge, 1996).

(47.) See Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, 166, on this "blunder," which she interprets as a mistake in an otherwise ethnographic and mimetic representation. In contrast I think such a "blunder" is explicable when one puts it in relation to all the other cliches in the two paintings.

(48.) Reina Lewis, "Women Orientalist Artists: Diversity, Ethnography, Interpretation" Women: A Cultural Review 6, no. 1 (1995): 91-106,102. This article, rather than Lewis's revised book chapter in Gendering Orientalism (119), presents the more detailed discussion of Jerichau-Baumann, even if it is brief overall.

(49.) Alexandra was, of course, the daughter of King Christian IX and his wife, Louise, of whom Jerichau had produced successful portraits back in Denmark. For this royal patronage see also Mary Roberts, "Harem Portraiture: Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann and the Egyptian Princess Nazli Hanim " in Local/Global: Women Artists in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Deborah Cherry and Janice Helland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006),77-98, 79.

(50.) Birgitte von Folsach, By the Light of the Crescent Moon: Images of the Near East in Danish Art and Literature, 1800-1975 (Copenhagen: David Collection, 1996), 86. The Art Journal of Dec. 1876 announced Jerichau's visit to the harem and declared that "it will be difficult to overrate the interest of such a series [of harem portraits]" (382).

(51.) Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, Brogede Rejsehilleder, Med 20 Illustrationer (Kjobenhavn: Thieles, 1881). Despite the fact that she stays with the Orientalist paradigm, my reading of Jerichau is once more indebted to Lewis's, particularly her essay "Women Orientalist Artists" (100-105). Roberts's detailed essay "Harem Portraiture" provides important background information on Jerichau and her dealings with Nazili and also English translations for relevant parts of the travelogue. My reading is, however, not concerned with the mutual interdependence of the Western painter and her subject, even if it builds on Roberts's findings otherwise.

(52.) See Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 81.

(53.) Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1: 4. See another example where shade is objectionable: 1:16.

(54.) Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1: 2.

(55.) Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1:17.

(56.) Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1:17.

(57.) Jericho-Baumann, Brogede Rejsehilleder, 22-34, trans, in Roberts, "Harem Portraiture" 80,83.

(58.) Jerichau-Baumann, Brogede Rejsehilleder, 23, trans, in Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 77. The gynocentric idea of female roles and female society expressed here confirms once again the domestication of the harem in many Western female representations.

(59.) See Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 77-78. Roberts sees the same artistic transformation of documentary fact into imaginary art in the supposedly "truthful" harem travelogues of the period. She shows in "Contested Terrains" how ethnography regularly meets fiction, in the turning of the travel writers to dramatizations, stock Orientalist imagery, and references to the Arabian Nights.

(60.) Jerichau-Baumann, Brogede Rejsebilleder, 22, trans, in Roberts, "Harem Portraiture "79-80.

(61.) Jerichau-Baumann, Brogede Rejsehilleder, n.p., trans, in von Folsach, By the Light, 86.

(62.) See Jerichau-Baumann, Brogede Rejsehilleder, 24, trans, in Roberts, Harem Portraiture," 83.

(63.) Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1: 120-21. See another instance related to a woman called the Zeineb Sultana: 1:15-16.

(64.) See Walker, Eastern Life and Scenery, 1: 311: "I learn that she [i.e., Zeineb Sultana] wishes me to repaint the dress of her portrait according to a new fashion-book just received from Paris--a strange undertaking, as the large canvas was varnished and considered finished years ago; but, wishing to see something more of the inmates of that palace, I agree to do my best to make her picture 'fashionable:"

(65.) See the reproduction of The Princess Nazili Hanum in Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 87. Jerichau's Odalisque is reproduced in Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, plate 26 (126-27).

(66.) Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 86.

(67.) Roberts, "Harem Portraiture," 86.

(68.) "The Works of Madame Jerichau," Art Journal (June 1871): 165. All subsequent references to this review are to this page number.

(69.) The black slave has various meanings in European and American art, depending on context. See, for a discussion of these, the series The Image of the Black in Western Arty 10 vols., gen ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010-12). Nochlin also discusses these varied meanings in her "Imaginary Orient" with reference to Gerome's Moorish Bath.

(70.) Rana Kabbani, Europe's Myth of Orient: Devise and Rule (Houndmills, Basing-stoke: Macmillan, 1986), 70.

(71.) Von Folsach, By the Light, 86.

(72.) Von Folsach, By the Light, 83.

(73.) The comparison between Jerichau and Browne is in the Art Journal (June 1866): 194: "Madame Henrietta [sic] Browne, to whom Madame Jerichau has sometimes been under obligation." The reference to the ethnographic and national is again to the review of "Madame Jerichau's works "

(74.) See the discussions about ethnographic photography, almost exclusively conducted by men, in Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem, trans. Myra Godzich and Wlad Godzich, intro. Barbara Harlow (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Sarah Graham-Brown, Images of Women: The Portrayal of Women in Photography of the Middle East 1860-1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). For a brief discussion of the continuation of ethnographic/realist portraiture in photographs of "ethnic type," see Mason, Infelicities, i24f.

(75.) See Melman, Women s Orients, 62-63.

(76.) See Lewis, Gendering Orientalism, 118, i7iff.

(77.) Lewis, "Women Orientalist Artists," 105-6.
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Author:Kuehn, Julia
Publication:Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:May 1, 2011
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