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By Guillemin, Emile Coriolan Hippolyte (French, 1841-1907)
These antique bronze busts are especially notable for their exceptional attention to detail and their sensual, alluring portrayal of Ottoman subjects.
These patinated bronze busts, titled ‘Janissaire du sultan Mahmoud II’ (Janissary of Sultan Mahmoud II) and ‘Jeune fille du Caire’ (Young girl of Cairo), respectively, are widely regarded as some of the most important and finest works by their sculptor, Emile Coriolan Hippolyte Guillemin (French, 1841-1907).
Guillemin was one of the foremost sculptors and decorative artists of the Parisian Belle Époque, and his work perfectly captured the design sensibilities of the age: historicism, heroism, splendour, and fascination with the Orient. It was this that made Guillemin such a fashionable sculptor, and his Orientalist works were exhibited to great acclaim at the Parisian Salons of the late 19th Century. At the time, the annual Salon in Paris’s Louvre was perhaps the most important art exhibition in the world.
It was at the Salon of 1880 that the first models of these busts were exhibited, where they were noted especially for their stunningly naturalistic depiction of Orientalist subjects. The present busts would have been cast after the original exhibition, in the 1880s.
The Orientalist style in the arts had started to become fashionable in the later 19th Century in Europe, as Western imperial explorations in the Middle East and North Africa had created an interest in the raw, sensual beauty of these lands and their people.
The subjects of these busts—an important Ottoman soldier and an Egyptian woman wearing exquisite jewels—were clearly deliberately chosen by Guillemin to encapsulate the exotic appeal of the Middle East.
The male bust shows a Janissary, the Ottoman name for an elite foot soldier who worked as part of the Ottoman Sultan’s personal guard. The Janissaries were a powerful element of Ottoman society, famed for their strict military discipline. The long handlebar moustache, the two weapons sheathed in his chest, the impressive military headgear—these elements have all been exquisitely cast to display the martial potency and exotic, Eastern masculinity of the sitter.
By way of contrast, the female figure (‘Jeune fille du Caire’) has been sculpted to represent delicacy, grace, and glamour. She is shown wearing fine clothing and jewels, including a stunning pair of gilded earrings and a fine headdress set with the Eastern symbolism of the crescent moon and star. She is shown looking assured, with her eyes averted from the viewer, and yet alluring at the same time.
One of the more virtuosic flourishes on this pair of busts is the polychrome patination, which was a signature technique of Guillemin’s. Patination refers to the dark patina on the pieces, which occurs as a result of the surface metal oxidising. Bronze sculptors often apply patinas to their pieces, under certain conditions of light and heat, to achieve dark brown and black colours. Here Guillemin has skilfully applied several different patinas to create a splendid polychrome effect.
As well as his genius use of patinas, Guillemin was also renowned for his attention to detail. The metal casting on the busts’ clothing, headgear, and jewellery is an additionally impressive feature. The intricate patterning on the figures’ clothing attests to the superior skill of the sculptor.
Both figures are mounted onto a circular levanto rouge marble socle. The male figure is signed ‘Ele Guillemin / 1879’, and contains a retailer’s mark for Tiffany & Co, the famous American jeweller. The female figure is also signed ‘Ele Guillemin’.
Their dimensions are as follows:
Male figure: Height 89.5cm
Female figure: Height 79.5cm
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