The Moorish Chief, Eduard Charlemont
There is the commonly encountered color discrepancy between the Google Art Project version and the Philadelphia Museum’s online version. In this case, I think the museum got it right, and the Google version is a bit over-saturated. I’ve used the museum version at top, and slightly color corrected the Google/Wikimedia version for my detail crops.
One of my earliest and most vivid memories of visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was a teenager, was coming across this painting hanging in a stairwell (yes, a stairwell) in one of the wings of the museum.
Presumably, it was a way to have it on display without making it too prominent, at a time when 19th century academic art and Orientalist painting were actively devalued in the face of the prominence of Modernist art standards.
It now hangs in a much more suitable place, where it remains a striking painting in a gallery rich with striking paintings (including, at times, Frits Thaulow’s Water Mill).
Charlemont’s painting is large, not quite life size, but large enough to command attention, roughly 5 feet by 3 feet (150x98cm). The subject himself demands our notice, his regal bearing, icy stare and striking skin color set against his light robes, make him impossible to pass by.
Throughout the painting, Charlemont has played with value relationships, from dramatic contrast to subtle lost edges in the darker passages.
Once we have been struck by the subject’s countenance, the nuanced levels of color intensity, from the pale background to the color of the foreground walls to the gleam of the urn, lead inevitably to the red of the sash. Charlemont has our attention in his hands from the outset, directing our gaze where he will.