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Ref. 1621

Important Orientalist chimney mantelpiece and its mirror

Circa 1880

Chimney : Height : 114 cm (44.8 in.); Width : 148 cm (58.2 in.) ; Depth : 50 cm (19.7 in.)
Mirror : Height : 145 cm (57 in.) ; Width : 115 cm (45.2 in.) ; Depth : 27 cm (10.6 in.)

Beautiful set of orientalist chimney mantelpiece and its mirror in carved and stained wood with openwork decoration of moucharabiehs, carved motifs of pearl friezes and foliage. The lintel includes in its center a cartouche with a mother-of-pearl inscription saying “Only Gold could be glorious” on a black background.


The word « Orientalism » appears around 1830, while the 17th and 18th centuries already developed with a large fantasy the “Turquerie” theme. This trend imbued with exoticism and picturesque can be found in the decoration of Marie-Antoinette and Comte d’Artois’ private apartments at the end of the 1780’s. It is in the 19th century, with the Bonaparte-led Egypt expedition of 1798 that the craze for Orient, its mysteries, beauty, eroticism and light fascinates.  However, the overtaking of Alger by the French in 1830 remains the real starting point of this artistic movement and of the apparition of the term Orientalism.

With the development of steam maritime liaisons and railways, painters, sculptors, cabinet-makers and ceramists join militaries and salesmen in discovering yet unknown countries.

Riding camels and wearing turbans, French artists, visit Persian and Arabic countries, such as Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) who drew hundreds of watercolours and sketches from his travels to Alger and Oran in 1832. It will remain a source of inspiration for years to come. Other artists such as Decamps, Fromentin or Gerome, Lamartine, Nerval or Gautier, all fed by the desire to uncover new civilisations or even to adopt the local lifestyle, also went towards those sunny and arid lands. In the meantime, English are focused towards Egypt and Palestine. In Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, other European artists undertook travels of their own.

From those travels, fine Arts in Europe burst in new themes: the despotism of the tyrant, the sensuality and opulence of harems, the picturesque of coloured street scenes, the richness of men and landscapes. In France, Orientalists became famous during the Second Empire.

Emperor Napoleon III, aristocrats as much as the bourgeoisie searching for exoticism filled up order books of renowned artists.  It is not primarily the academic style of the Orientalists that matter, but mostly the exoticism of their pieces that fascinate the public; such as the sculptor Charles Cordier (1827-1905) who innovates with the polychrome marbles and onyx from Algeria, or Emile Guillemin (1841-1907) whose works are edited by Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-1892). Those artists joined scientific expeditions in Orient, in order to report cultures of a multi-ethnic civilisation. This documentary and naturalist approach shows a political and cultural desire to preserve anthropological and geographic testimony.

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