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Three North Africans

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Three North Africans

Artist: Frederick A. Bridgman (American, 1847-1928; active Europe, after 1866)

Date: 1879 (?)
Medium: Charcoal on handmade, off-white, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 7 7/8 × 10 5/16in. (20 × 26.2cm)
Markings: Watermark, lower left (block letters): "J. WHA[TMAN]"
Inscribed: Recto, lower center (graphite?): "2" Verso, lower right (graphite): "D22" (enclosed in a circle): Bottom right (graphite): "69-F1-XOAX"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 82.1
Text Entries

Bridgman was the leading nineteenth-century American Orientalist. He made his first trip to North

Africa in the early 1870s, visiting Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. When he traveled to Paris in the spring of 1874 he reputedly brought drawings along with the oil sketches and watercolors he made in North Africa, but none of these has been located.(1)

By the 1880s Bridgman ceased painting the archaeologically accurate Near Eastern subjects that earned him his initial fame. He began to make contemporary genre scenes of the daily activities of Algerian women. In general, these works were based on studies he made in 1879 when he visited eastern Tunisia and Algeria, where he spent time in several remote oasis villages bordering the Sahara.(2) In this region Bridgman would have encountered native people dressed like the three shown in the MWPI sketch.(3) Early in 1881 he exhibited several hundred works he made in North Africa in a well—received show at the American Art Gallery in New York City. In the exhibition catalog there are works listed with subjects similar to the MWPI drawing.(4)

In the winter of 1885-86 Bridgman made his third and final journey to North Africa. He traveled in western Algeria “to get hold of some novel subjects and make a number of studies”(5) Shortly thereafter he published an account of his travels in Algeria in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. A more complete account of his North African travels appeared in 1888 as a book, which includes an extensive account of his experiences among the peoples of the Sahara.(6)


1. Ilene Susan Fort, “Frederick Arthur Bridgman and the American Fascination with the Exotic Near East” (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1990), 1: 96- 97. See also G. W. Sheldon, “Frederick A. Bridgman,” in American Painters: With Eighty-Three Examples of Their Work Engraved an Wood (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879), 153.

2. Fort, “Bridgman,” 1: 260-64.

3. Stefano Carboni, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to author, March 22, 1993, noted that the figures in the MWPI drawing are probably Berbers but that their costumes are not sufficiently detailed to permit a definite identification. Shelagh Weir, Assistant Keeper, Department of Ethnography, The British Museum, letter to author, April 26, 1993, suggested that all three of the figures are women because of their voluminousness headdresses and the headband worn by the figure at the left.

4. Exhibition of Pictures and Studies by F. A. Bridgman (New York: American Art Gallery, February 1881). A microfilm copy of this rare catalog is in the New York Public Library.

5. Fort, “Bridgman,” 1: 308-9.

6. F. A. Bridgman, “A Winter in Algiers,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 76, April and May 1888, 653-69, 845-62; and Frederick A. Bridgman, Winters in Algeria (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1890).



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