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Reconnoitering

On view

Reconnoitering

Artist: Adolf Schreyer (German, 1828 - 1899)

Date: c. 1885
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Overall: 19 1/2 x 31 1/2in. (49.5 x 80cm)
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 95
Label Text
The German, Orientalist painter Adolf Schreyer was born at Frankfort-on-Main, Germany in 1828, studying art at the Staedel Institute in his native town and then at Stuttgart, Munich, and Dusseldorf, and later in Paris. While very little is known about the artist, it is known that he found his favorite subjects during his voyages in East, travelling with Prince Thurn and Taxis through Hungary, Wallachia, Russia, and Turkey. His travels to and fascination with the East did not end in Turkey, in 1854 grasping at the opportunity to travel to the faraway lands that had piqued his imagination, Schreyer followed the Austrian army across the Wallachian frontier. In 1856 he went to Egypt and Syria and in 1864 to Algiers, finding the inspiration for his figures of Middle East harems, of Bedouin soldiers, and crowded bazaars that would appear in his work for the rest of his career. In 1862 Schreyer sojourned in Paris, but returned to Germany in 1870 settling at Cronberg near Frankfort where he died in 1899. During his era Schreyer was esteemed as a painter of horses, of peasant life in Wallachia and Moldavia, and of battle incidents, his work remarkable for its excellent equine draughtsmanship, and for the artist's power of observation and forceful statement. During his career, Schreyer amassed a considerable following, his works finding their way into the collections of the Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Astor families.
His energetic scenes of faraway, exotic places puts Schreyer firmly into the field of Orientalism, a style of works typified by their depictions of the life, history, and topography of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and sometimes modern Greece, the Crimea, Albania, and the Sudan. This movement, of which Adolf Schreyer was at the forefront, emerged in 19th century Europe as the continent became more involved politically in the Near East, and when means of travel improved, Western artists began visiting the region in great numbers and paid closer attention to its distinctive features. The majority of these works were not purely accurate, unbiased representations of the actual lives of Eastern people, these works were executed under the assumption that colonialism was justified as a civilizing and modernizing force, manufacturing subjects that spoke to in their minds to Near Eastern violence and misgovernment.
Depicting distinguished, Eastern, Bedouin soldiers during military conflict, Adolf Schreyer's Reconnoitering is a marvelous example of Orientalist sensibilities. Against a desert landscape dotted with palm trees and sandstone minarets and walls of a village, a Bedouin soldier in opulent, fantastic garb rides astride a noble beast of the horse, searching in the distance for enemy soldiers as his comrades wait attentively behind him. As opposed to the opulent harems and bustling city markets, this picture of soldiers engaged in a military exercise depicts the truly spartan life of Bedouin life, devoid of the fantasies of luxury, eroticism, and violence that characterized a great number of the works of Schreyer's peers. Purchased in Paris by Fred Proctor in 1902, this work was described by its owner as a "winter scene and suffering beasties, but well done." This work, a remnant of the Orientalist tradition, is a fine example of the Victorian, Romantic view of the East, a lively picture of the simple yet dignified life of a Bedouin soldier.

Gordon Dearborn Wilkins
Hamilton College Intern, 2010

Copyright
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