TOP 21 ORIENTALIST PAINTINGS

In art history, Orientalism is a term used by art historians to describe a style of art that depicted scenes and designs from the East. This style was used by Western artists who had a strong interest in Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian, and North African cultures.

Due to its popularity among Western artists, the Orientalist style is often divided into two categories: the realists artists who traveled to the East and painted what they saw and the fantasy artists who never traveled to the East but instead painted what they imagined the East to be.

In some countries, Orientalism is considered an art movement taking place in the 19th-century. However, if you were to expand your study, you would find that Orientalism goes back much further and still exists today. For example, in the 1700s, Jean-Étienne Liotard traveled to Turkey and painted numerous pastels of Turkish domestic scenes. When he returned to Europe, he continued to wear Turkish dress, thus gaining the name “the Turkish painter”.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Maid Serving Tea, c. 1740–42.
Jean-Etienne Liotard, Maid Serving Tea, c. 1740–42. Black and red chalk over pencil on two sheets of paper. 20.5 x 28.5 cm. Museum Oskar Reinhart

Even before the 1700s, you can see Orientalist influences in the religious artifacts and art of Western Europe. One example is Gentile Bellini’s painting of the Ottoman leader, Sultan Mehmed II in 1480. An Orientalist influence can be seen in several other paintings by Bellini, including the portrait of a Turkish artist and the painting called St. Mark Preaching at Alexandria.

Another example of early Orientalist influence on Western European art can be seen in the works of Bonaventura Peeters in the mid-1600s. A great example is A Port in the Orient, painted between 1650 and 1652.

Bonaventura Peeter, A Port in the Orient (between 1650 and 1652)
Bonaventura Peeters (I), A Port in the Orient (between 1650 and 1652)
Anonymous Venetian Orientalist painting, The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511, the Louvre. The deer with antlers in the foreground is not known ever to have existed in the wild in Syria.
Anonymous Venetian Orientalist painting, The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511, the Louvre. The deer with antlers in the foreground is not known ever to have existed in the wild in Syria.

In modern times, many artists continue to explore the Orientalist themes. One such artist is Pedro Bonatto. Bonatto created a fine-art photography series called The Orientalist which “explores the presence of Middle Eastern dance, music and art in the West through creative portraiture.” The series is filled with dramatic images, transporting the viewer to the East… the 18th and 19th century East to be specific. You can see this in Bonatto’s “Not Mine” shown below .

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Not Mine (2016) by Pedro Bonatto

Earlier we wrote, this style is often divided into two categories: the realists artists who traveled to the East and painted what they saw and the fantasy artists who never traveled to the East but instead painted what they imagined the East to be. Well, at this point, we would like to further divide the Orientalist style into two more categories: paintings depicting an exotically sexual scene and paintings giving an authentic glimpse of an event or a location.

This new division is important in understanding the current critiquing of the Orientalist movement. Today, the Orientalist movement is under fire for culture appropriation, racist depictions, false stereotypes construction, and cultural inaccuracies. In the book Orientalism (1978), the cultural critic Edward Said redefined the term Orientalism to describe a pervasive Western tradition — academic and artistic — of prejudiced outsider-interpretations of the Eastern world, which was shaped by the cultural attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As for who is right or wrong, we will leave it for you to form your own opinion. Below we have added more Orientalist paintings to help you do this. These paintings depict various scenes – from the hyper sexual to the conservative professional.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Grand Odalisque, 1814
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Grand Odalisque, 1814

Eugène Delacroix, The Women of Algiers, 1834, the Louvre, Paris
Eugène Delacroix, The Women of Algiers, 1834, the Louvre, Paris
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The 1798 Egyptian Expedition Under the Command of Bonaparte, Léon Cogniet, 1835. Musée du Louvre
John Frederick Lewis, The Reception, 1873
John Frederick Lewis, The Reception, 1873
Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856), Scene of the harem, Moorish woman in bath
Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856), Scene of the harem, Moorish woman in bath
Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa, 1804
Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa, 1804
Gustav Bauernfeind: Market at Jaffa, 1877
Gustav Bauernfeind: Market at Jaffa, 1877
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, with the assistance of his pupil Paul Flandrin, Odalisque with Slave, 1839
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, with the assistance of his pupil Paul Flandrin, Odalisque with Slave, 1839
John Frederick Lewis, The midday meal, Cairo
John Frederick Lewis, The midday meal, Cairo
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Giulio Rosati, The Harem Dance
Henriette Browne, A Visit: Harem Interior, Constantinople, 1860,
Henriette Browne, A Visit: Harem Interior, Constantinople, 1860,
Barge of the Maharaja Of Benares by Edwin Lord Weeks (1883)
Edwin Lord Weeks, Barge of the Maharaja of Benares (1883)
William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Savior in the Temple, 1860
William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Savior in the Temple, 1860
Gustav Bauernfeind, The Gate of the Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, 1890
Gustav Bauernfeind, The Gate of the Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, 1890
Along the Ghats of Mathura by Edwin Lord Weeks (1883)
Edwin Lord Weeks, Along the Ghats of Mathura (1883)
Jean Discart, L’Atelier de Poterie, Tanger
Jean Discart, L’Atelier de Poterie, Tanger
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Giulio Rosati, Nomads
Giulio Rosati, A Successful Raid, 1858–1917
Giulio Rosati, A Successful Raid, 1858–1917
The_cobbler,_Tangiers,_by_Jean_Discart
The cobbler, Tangiers, by Jean Discart
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Ferdinand Max Bredt (1860–1921) Turkish ladies 1893