Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Charlemont’s Moorish Chief

The Moorish Chief, Eduard Charlemont
The Moorish Chief, Eduard Charlemont

On Google Art Project; high-resolution downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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.


10 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Charlemont’s Moorish Chief”

  1. Wonderful painting.

  2. John R, Baker explains in his book Race: “In one sense the word ‘Moor’ means Mohammedan Berbers and Arabs of North-western Africa, with some Syrians, who conquered most of Spain in the 8th century and dominated the country for hundreds of years.”

    From the virtual library I copy with corrections:
    “The name Moor has been given by the Romans to the inhabitants of North Africa from the actual Morocco to the actual Mauritania the word is from: am-mori the descendants of Amor the fourth son of Kana; they lived first in Palestine and immigrated on the third millenium to North Africa. Some of them were black and some others were fair-skin the am-mori people are divided in many tribes at least 7 tribes. The larger are the Haoussa and the Youruba who live in Nigeria. There are some am’mori people in China”

    I agree, the painting is really wonderful.

    1. The Moors, in whatever form or sub-group, invaded and occupied much of southern Spain and Italy, from which Europe inherited Moorish architecture and its characteristic arches.

  3. Joyce Feindler Avatar
    Joyce Feindler

    I, too, first met the Moorish Chief in that stairwell. Thank you for your comments, because I had begun to doubt my memory!

    1. It did seem too bizarre to be real, didn’t it?

  4. ‘On the stairwell’ because our Moorish Chief is posing on a stairwell looking down on us.

  5. Bill Graney Avatar
    Bill Graney

    There must have been a lot of nascent art lovers hanging out in that stairwell at the PMA, because that’s where I first saw the painting while I was attending school in Philadelphia. It’s delightful to see it again. Thanks so much for highlighting it.

    1. My pleasure. Looks like we have the beginnings of a PMA Charlemont Stairwell Appreciation Society.

  6. Darren Kingsley Avatar
    Darren Kingsley

    Seems quite a bit desaturated to me. The gold colors in that painting are pretty intense. Photos of paintings are never very good though.