Tunisia, Orientalism and Beyond

On 04 September 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

Alexandre Roubtzoff and Étienne Dinet were the two champions of this sale dedicated to Orientalism and Asian art.

Alexandre Roubtzoff (1884-1949), Avenue Jules Ferry, 1918 (Cosmopolitan population of Tunis), mixed media on its original canvas in three sections, 152 x 320 cm.
Result: €279,503

The Russian-born painter Alexandre Roubtzoff (1884-1949) developed a lasting affection for Tunisia and its inhabitants, regularly acclaimed at auction by high bids for his sensitive, realistic portraits. This time he appeared with an arresting large-scale three-section work 20 meters (65.6 ft) long, staging a colorful crowd in the avenues of the French Protectorate's capital. There was certainly a throng in Avenue Jules Ferry in 1918! The war was still very present in people's minds, and in fact several spahis in their fine uniforms can be seen rubbing shoulders with elegant ladies in hats and women in traditional costume. The work, exhibited at the Tunis Salon of 1921, was again the focus of an interest reflecting its rarity, inspiring a bid of €279,503 – which according to Artnet, makes it the artist's third-highest result. He painted no more scenes like this, preferring the intimacy of shared glances or some of the landscapes he visited. Étienne Dinet (1861-1929) also eulogized the North African spirit. We know that he was so attached to Algeria that he changed his name and converted to Islam. But before he took this path, his early works were influenced by the heritage of a mid-19th century Orientalist archetype – as with Couple in a Palm Grove, an oil painting on its original canvas (97 x 78 cm, 3.18 x 2.55 ft), which went for €163,803.
The afternoon also featured some antique South Asian and Persian items, including two manuscripts. The first, from Persian India, c. 1800, copied by Sayyed Mohammad Amin al-Mashhadi after Shaykh Musli al-Din Saasi (who died in around 1292), garnered €59,803. The second, from 18th century Iran, was also an illuminated manuscript, copied from an author who lived during the reign of the great Mongol leader Genghis Khan. This fetched €20,803.

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