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Huntsville, Ala.Orientalism: The Allure of North Africa and the Near East celebrates 19th-century Western visions of a region then referred to as the Orient and the writers, scholars, and, most importantly, artists who were inspired to make the long journey there.


According to Alia Nour, Curator at the Dahesh Museum of Art, who developed Orientalism: The Allure of North Africa and the Near East “The visions and stories unfolded by these Orientalists reveal the dynamic interactions and cultural exchanges that occurred in the past—and continue to engage us in the 21st century.”


David Farmer, Director of Exhibitions of the Dahesh, adds, “We are fortunate that our Museum has such a comprehensive collection in so many different mediums that demonstrate the wide diversity of subjects that the Orient provided: from ancient wonders, exotic peoples and locales, and expansive deserts, to its magnificent Islamic art and architecture.”


The Orient fascinated the West for centuries, and fanciful images appear in European art as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, although rarely based on actual observation. In the 18th century, “Turquerie” (the fashion for all things Turkish) swept across Europe, based on eye-witness images of Turkish costumes, painted and published by such artist-residents as Jean-Baptiste Vanmour. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign (1798-1801) engendered the fashion for ancient Egypt, often referred to as “Egyptomania,” and a scientific Orientalism in art. Accompanying Napoleon, more than 160 scholars and artists documented the history, monuments, and daily life of ancient and modern Egypt for the 24-volume encyclopedic Description de l’Égypte (Description of Egypt,1809-28).


As travel became more comfortable, Western artists flocked to the Orient towards some of the most popular destinations, particularly Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, and the Holy Land. Enchanted by the exotic, Romantics wanted to escape the urban rigors back home. Realists sought to record the “authentic” Orient. Others looked for fresh subject matter to satisfy the new demands of a changing Western art market. Some traveled to the region as part of official government missions, others accompanied wealthy patrons, or were hired by the local elites and royalty. Many who did not make the journey rendered an “imaginary” Orient inspired by translated Arabic texts and popular Western literary and travel accounts, as well as more scholarly historical, architectural, and ethnographic publications. After 1839, photographic reproductions became an important source of information. 


Drawn from the Dahesh Museum of Art and a private collection, the exhibition features over 50 magnificent paintings, sculptures, prints, and illustrated books by artists from Europe and America, such as Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Joseph Farquharson, Edwin Longsden Long, Owen Jones, Émile Prisse d’Avennes, Rudolf Ernst, Ludwig Deutsch, Frederic Lord Leighton, Charles-Théodore Frère, and Hermann-David-Salomon Corrodi. It addresses a wide variety of themes, ranging from the West’s fascination with ancient Egypt, Medieval Islamic architecture and design, and the exploration of biblical history to exotic genre and harem scenes, providing a fuller understanding of Orientalism and the artists who practiced it. 


According to the Huntsville Museum of Art’s Executive Director Christopher Madkour, “for the past seven years, both institutions have been in discussion and planning stages to travel this exhibition to Huntsville; the first exhibition from the Dahesh to travel to the Southeast. Having lived in Cairo for many years and traveled extensively throughout the region, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase these stunning masterworks of North Africa and the Near East.”


The Huntsville Museum of Art will be presenting Orientalism: The Allure of North Africa and the Near East. Masterworks from the Dahesh Museum of Art from October 27, 2019, to January 19, 2020. The Museum will host a lecture and reception to celebrate the exhibition opening on Tuesday, October 29. For more information and a schedule of gallery talks and related programs, visit