'Arabs ambushed in a pass', Orientalist painting by Fromentin

By Fromentin, Eugène (French, 1820-1876)


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This superb painting is by the celebrated French Orientalist artist Eugène Fromentin. The painting depicts a mountain pass, the claustrophobic composition hemmed in by the rocky face of a cliff. In the foreground, an Arab horseman rears on his stallion; in front of him, his companions and their horses lie dead and dying in a mass of limbs. The perpetrators of the ambush are visible to the left, their pistols raised against the lone survivor.

The painterly manner is fluid and animated, the cursory style granting a palpable sense of energy and movement to the scene. The colour palette is subdued, echoing the sombre tone of the subject matter.

Fromentin visited Algeria for the first time in 1846 and then for a longer period in 1847. These trips formed the basis for many of Fromentin’s later compositions. Moreover, the light that Fromentin discovered in the Sahel—not blinding and blanching, but instead soft and cloudy—is convincingly conveyed in the present work.

The painting is signed and indistinctly dated lower left ‘Eug. Fromentin’.


Probably, Estate of the artist (Sale: Drouot, 30 January 1877, lot 17)
Exhibited: Paris, Ecole nationale des Beaux-Arts, Exposition des œuvres d'Eugène Fromentin, 1877, no. 68
Probably, Mr Desprez, Paris
J. C. Paz, Argentine Ambassador to Paris (circa 1885); thence by descent in his family
Acquired by the Círculo Militar de Buenos Aires in 1938
Sale: Christie's, Paris, 9 November 2010, lot 26
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 19 April 2016, lot 21


James Thompson, Barbara Wright, La vie et l'œuvre d'Eugène Fromentin, Paris, 2008, p. 226


Artist / Maker
By Fromentin, Eugène (French, 1820-1876)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
c. 1870s
19th Century
Giltwood, Oil on Canvas
Gold, Multi-coloured


165 cm / 65 inches
110 cm / 43.3 inches


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