September 04, 2008

'The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting" at Tate Britain

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Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior

It's taken me a while to blog about this so I'll just say a few words about what was a thoroughly enjoyable exhibition at the Tate gallery in London. The exhibition brought together paintings by British artists of the "Orient" - eastern Mediterranean countries under the control of the Ottoman Empire- from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, although most of the paintings were nineteenth century. A number of themes structured the exhibition: Orientalist portraits demonstrated the fashion for adopting the dress of foreign countries by travellers like T.E. Lawrence; 'genre and gender' explored the gendering of public and private spaces, although I felt this was more fully covered in the section on 'home and harem' which drew attention to female travellers who could, unlike their male counterparts, access exclusively female places like the harem. Throughout the exhibition, the informative displays and audio guides made much use of travel writing to supplement factual information- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writing featured particularly prominently. A section on 'mapping the orient' was useful in depicting the shifting boundaries of the Ottoman Empire throughout the period covered by the exhibition, and in detailing the changes in journeys undertaken as transport developments progressed to enable easier access to the region.

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