A Young Emir Studying

WAG 2953


Increased contact between Europe and the Near East in the 19th century stimulated the curiosity of both cultures. European artists catered for this interest with 'Oriental' paintings. Reality in these images was often distorted by a Western desire for the exotic. Hamdi Bey was Turkish but spent his late teens in Paris where he learnt to paint. His nationality meant his scenes of the Near East were perceived as authentic by Western audiences. In reality, his compositions were constructed for European tastes. This painting depicts a young prince studying a religious text. The subject and composition was one Hamdi Bey returned to several times over the course of his career. The first known painting in the series was began in 1878. A later version, from 1890, was titled 'A Young Woman Studying'. Scenes of Islamic devotion were particularly popular in Europe during this period. Western audiences were increasingly aware of the tension between religious teachings and scientific thinking. Paintings of Islamic worship and minurets presented an idealised view of religion which had been destroyed in Europe. Hamdi Bey seems to have been keen to exploit this interest in pictures such as this one. It is far from an authentic account however. Close study of the book in the hands of the sitter reveals that what might be taken to be Islamic script from the Koran is in fact random words strung together. The Walker's painting can be considered the best and final painting in Hamdi Bey's series. In preperation for it, he posed and photographed his son to act as an aide-mémoire, or visual reference, to work from while he painted. He never returned to this subject. The stucco-like inscription above the tiles and left of the niche in the painting reads: 'In the name of God most merciful and most compassionate, my success is only through God'. The short one word inscription on the same border, but on the right of the niche reads 'Hamdi'. The artist signed all of his paintings with his signature, as is customary in Western painting, but often found playful ways, such as this, to include his name in Arabic script too.