French Title: Bischarin, buste de guerrier (Bisharin Warrior)
Jean-Léone Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)
Signed J.L Gerome (lower left)
Oil on canvas
11 5/8 x 8 5/8 in ( 29.5 x 21.9cm)
Painted in 1872
This extraordinary portrait is one of two canvases of the same subject (different poses) ordered by the art dealer Samuel P. Avery from Gérome while he was resident in London during the siege of Paris. Gérome promised to deliver the panels once back in Paris, where he could find a proper model, This seems to indicate either that Gérome started and painted much of the work from memory, or that perhaps he just worked up the accessories and the general pose from a local model in London and then finished the work in Paris. The other panel, Arab Warrior, 1872 is larger.
The same model is depicted from the front with his head turned dramatically away; a greater array of accessories is included.
By comparison, the Bisharin Warrior, is a marvel of compositional control . Despite the seeming austerity, the work is held together by complex rhythms: an obvious over-all triangle is broken by the hand holding the sword whose diagonal slant is prepared for by the strap on the young man’s shoulder. The roundness of the rich hair is echoed by the shield, whose bosses nonetheless set up an accord with the rectangular shape of the canvas, and so it goes through the painting, where despite the seeming relaxed naturalism of the pose, every line and shape has its purpose.
The Bisharin or Bishari are a nomadic , pastoral tribe of the Eastern Desert of the Sudan. Gérome, proud of his skill as an “ethnographic painter”, displays his skill in accurately producing a racial type as well as an individual. The Bisharin are noted for their round faces, their straight noses and large eyes. In these traits they resemble the ancient Egyptians as depicted in their art. There are many fine features in this painting: The shield is excellent, the splayed fingers around the handle of the sword, and the youthful right arm. The handling of the face is quiet subtle, especially in the cheek bones and the sensuous lips.
Written by Professor Ackerman for Christie’s, Important Orientalist Paintings, 2001, P 36
Photo of Bisharin Warrior from Aswan