Three Vassar Girls Abroad
(Estes and Lauriat, 1883)
Movements like Egyptian Revival
and Japonisme were part of a more general increase
of interest in all things oriental or exotic during the
19th century. These curiosities had been present in the
past, but with the increase of political interaction with
the East, more European travel in these areas, and a climb
in imports, these styles and cultures captured the Romantic
imagination of the time, and exotic foreign themes cropped
up in literature and art. Another reason for this interest
was the growth of industrialization and migration to urban
centers; oriental cultures represented idealistic paradises
to which Westerners could escape.
Orientalism was particularly popular among painters. Artists like Eugène Delacroix and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted numerous images with oriental subject matter: Bedouin herdsmen, foreign soldiers, harem girls, market scenes, biblical scenes set in the Middle East. Often, though, these scenes spoke more about the manner in which Europeans projected fantasies of exoticism, violence and sexuality on other cultures than they served as accurate representations of other nations.
Four Thousand Miles of African Travel
(Baker, Pratt and Company, 1875)
Orientalism also had an impact on architecture and the decorative arts. Tourism and reference books gave designers access to the styles and themes of other cultures; for example, Sir William Chambers's Designs
of Chinese Buildings, Furniture and Dresses, etc. (1757) provided Europeans with one of the earliest accurate representations of Chinese architecture and decoration. In the 18th century, Chinese and Moorish buildings were popular for the fantasy garden designs of the aristocracy. One well-known example is the Chinese Pagoda in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England, designed by Chambers. An early 19th century example of a rather lavish foray into exoticism was George IV's
Royal Pavilion at Brighton, England, designed by John Nash, who created an "Indian" exterior and a chinoiserie interior. It became popular to incorporate a "Turkish" or "Indian" room into one's house or palace. In addition to imported goods, many decorative arts manufacturers provided for these rooms by making objects that imitated, more or less accurately, the ornamental styles of other regions.
Owen Jones was a particular
advocate of Islamic architecture and design. He published
a significant study on the architecture of the Alhambra,
an Islamic palace in Spain, and he himself designed in
it and other oriental styles. His famous Grammar of
Ornament (1856) included examples of Islamic decorations along with
a range of other historical and oriental designs, and this
book is one of the more accurate 19th century descriptions
of many of these styles.
Winters in Algeria
(Harper and Brothers, 1890)
Book cover designers also
explored oriental themes in their art. Stories set in non-European
lands were the most likely candidates for this treatment.
The cover designs tried to incorporate various oriental
ornamental styles, taken from design manuals like Grammar
of Ornament or created out of the artists' fertile imaginations.
There is not one definitive feature of these covers; rather,
they engage various kinds exotic architectural, decorative
and landscape forms and try to give the book the flavor
of that distant land. An Orientalist style cover was not
so much about merely depicting foreign subject matter;
rather, the designers also tried to mimic some aspect of
that other culture in ornament or style.
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Jervis, Simon. High Victorian Design. Ottawa, Ont.: National
Gallery of Canada, 1974.
Jones, Owen. The Grammar of Ornament. New York: Van Nostrand
Company, 1982. (originally published in 1856)
Peltre, Christine. Orientalism in
Art. Translated by John
Goodman. New York: Abbeville
Sweetman, John. The Orientalist Obsession:
Islamic Inspiration in British and American
Art and Architecture, 1500-1920. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University
Thornton, Lynne. The Orientalists:
Painter Travelers, 1828-1908. Paris: ACR Edition,