DescriptionEDWIN LORD WEEKS (American 1849-1903)
The Hour of Prayer At Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra, circa 1888-89
Oil on canvas
79 x 118-1/2 inches (205.7 x 299.7 cm)
Signed at lower left: E L WEEKS
Sale, American Art Association, New York, "Very Important Finished Pictures, Studies, Sketches and Original Drawings by the Late Edwin Lord Weeks to be sold at unrestricted public sale by order of his widow," March 15-17, 1905, lot 189, to George D. Pratt;
Mr. George D. Pratt, Brooklyn, New York, purchased for the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1905;
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 1905-1947;
Tobias Fisher and Company, New York in 1947;
Paris, Salon of 1889 (medalist);
London, Earl's Court, "Empire of India Exhibition," 1895;
"Romance of the Taj Mahal," Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California (December 17, 1979 through March 11, 1990); Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio (April 28 through June 24, 1990); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia (August 23 through November 25, 1990);
Asia Society, New York
Salon de 1889. Catalogue illustré, Ludovic Baschet, ed., Paris, 1889, no. 2713, p. 44.
A. Hustin, Salon de 1892, Paris, Ludovic Baschet, ed., Paris, 1892, p. 55 reproduces "Lord Edwin WEEKS" seated before The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra on the easel in his studio.
Edwin Lord Weeks, From the Black Sea through Persia and India, London, Harper and Brothers, Co., 1895.
University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham, The Art of Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903), 1976.
Pratapeditya Pal et al, Romance of the Taj Mahal, exh. cat. Los Angeles and New York, Thames and Hudson and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989, pp. 214-15.
Lois Marie Fink, American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, National Museum of American Art Smithsonian Institution and Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 403.
Ulrich W. Hiesinger, Edwin Lord Weeks, Visions of India, New York, Vance Jordan Fine Art, Inc., 2002.
Edwin Lord Weeks' 1888-89 masterpiece, The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra, is one of five monumental scenes of India which secured his reputation as America's most celebrated Orientalist painter of the late nineteenth century. Based upon the artist's second of three extended trips to India, in 1886-1887, The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra won a medal at the 1889 Paris Salon where it was displayed to enviable advantage. Six years later, Weeks chose this expansive sun-drenched view of the inner courtyard of the Pearl Mosque to represent him in the colossal "Empire of India" exhibition in London in 1895, where his achievement as the premier painter of Indian scenes was lavishly acknowledged with a medal of distinction, a monetary prize, and a special display of 78 of his works. From the time it was sold by the artist's widow in 1905, the Salon-scale Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid has had only two owners-the Brooklyn Museum of Art (1905-1947), which deaccessioned it at a time when academic painting had fallen sharply out of fashion, and a private American collection (1947-present). As such, it is in a fine state of preservation: it is unlined and in its original nineteenth-century frame that includes ornamental motifs complementing those depicted in the painting and reflecting the work of the noted American enthusiast of Indian design and Tiffany partner, Lockwood de Forest II (1850 - 1932), whose studio Weeks visited in Ahmedabad, India. Although not well-acquainted when they first met in India, Weeks and de Forest were distantly related (De Forest's mother was Julia Weeks de Forest).
Of all the Western "Orientalist" painters of his day, Edwin Lord Weeks produced the largest as well as the most compelling pictorial album of India. Unlike many of his contemporaries who explored Northern Africa and the Near East in their paintings, Weeks visited all the places he chose to portray and immersed himself in their cultures, particularly that of India which fascinated him above all others. In addition to the three visits he made to India in 1882-83, 1886-87, and 1892-93 at the height of his career (two accompanied by his wife), Weeks also journeyed to North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and Persia, where travel was often not only arduous but dangerous owing both to disease and to political upheaval. During his lifetime, Weeks was often described not simply as a "painter" but as a "painter-explorer" because his wanderlust compelled him to publish marvelous accounts of his travels fairly regularly in the major illustrated magazines (Scribner's and Harper's New Monthly Magazine). The artist's written descriptions of his travel experiences were as colorful as his paintings in their observation and detail. He also seems to have been something of a thrill-seeker by nature, and routinely went for extended climbs in the most treacherous parts of the Alps.
Even in terms of his outward appearance, the rather slight, bright-eyed and mustachioed New England "puritan" eventually came to resemble his subjects. As a mature artist, Weeks had acquired a sun-darkened complexion from his practice of sketching and painting outdoors in the streets, markets and bazaars beneath the relentless Indian midday sun. In choosing to settle in Paris, where his Salon-style academicism was more enthusiastically received than it had been in the United States, Weeks set himself up as a soft-spoken, but flamboyantly dressed ex-patriot in a studio first at 128 Avenue de Wagram, and later on the rue de Léonard da Vinci. He furnished his ateliers lavishly with carvings, furniture, textiles, metalwork, ceramics and assorted bric-a-brac from his Eastern travels (which doubled as props for his paintings), and often attired himself in a long flowing eastern robe and carpet slippers. A close friend of the painter's, S. G. W. Benjamin, once remarked that "he was so decidedly oriental in looks that habited in Moorish garb, Weeks could easily have passed for an Arab gentleman of Damascus." Weeks also stated, quite matter-of-factly, that living in Paris suited him in part because "it was much more convenient to India" than his native Boston or New York! From a practical standpoint, for an artist who exhibited for more than 20 years at the Paris Salon, was embraced by the Parisian art-buying public, and sold his works lucratively through his longtime dealer Durand-Ruel, the French capital was an ideal base from which to paint, live, exhibit, and travel.
Edwin Weeks painted The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra in his atelier on the rue de Wagram, where he worked from sketches he produced during his second trip to India. Judging from the painter's extant preparatory work, it appears that by the time he was making on-site studies for this painting, Weeks had dispensed with using sketch pads with pencil and ink as he had done earlier in his career. Instead, he sketched from life directly in oil on canvas-a practice also favored by the great Hudson River School landscapist, Frederic Edwin Church, who traveled into remote territory across the globe in search of his own artistic inspiration. As Ulrich Hiesinger noted in his lively and very readable account of Weeks' career, some of the oil studies Weeks "created in the field were relatively large, at twenty by thirty inches." A surviving oil study by Weeks for the two central figures near the pool in The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra, which recently sold at auction in London, measured a substantial 26 x 45 ¾ inches (Christie's, London, "Ottomans and Orientalists" sale, June 21, 2000, lot 71). Although they were not tiny, such sketches were still portable enough to be rolled up and transported back to Paris with little difficulty.
Ultimately, Weeks' lifelong fascination with the exoticism of far away places probably reached back into his family experiences as a young boy growing up in Newtonville, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Weeks' parents were highly successful import merchants whose stock-and-trade was eccentric exotic goods from around the globe. Although undocumented, his parents evidently encouraged his interest in art, supporting his early pilgrimage to Paris to acquire the professional art training he sought. Interestingly, not long after his initial visit to Paris, the young painter was already looking for artistic inspiration much further afield than the French capital. As a young artist he visited Surinam, and after his marriage, he and his new bride quickly headed off to the Near East.
Although Weeks was and remains art historically categorized as an "Orientalist" on account of his subject matter, the artist himself generally shunned the monicker, preferring to call himself a "colorist." Indeed, when he spoke about his paintings over the course of his career, he usually spoke in terms of color, light and atmosphere instead. Indeed, his description of The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra published in the catalogue of The Empire of India exhibition stressed that his aim was "to express the effect of white marble in sunlight, with its delicate reflections in the shadow." One Boston critic gave particularly high praise to Weeks' gift for painting light in words that aptly describe the blistering sunshine in The Hour of Prayer: "Weeks will take anything-a blank wall, a dusty street, a well, no matter what, if it only have brilliant effects of light and shade to attack and conquer. [He is] a painter and a chiaroscurist. He seems to delight in the projection of an old wall upon the deep Oriental sky, in the play of light and shade on cobble stones, in the innumerable textures of a street scene. . . Give him a hundred different textures to paint: a bewildering play of lights, half-lights, reflected lights, shades, shadows; an imperative demand for such technical powers as would dismay another-he is delighted. As a painter of these qualities he is supreme." (Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, January 7, 1885, p. 2)
In most accounts of Edwin Lord Weeks' career, the great French Romantic painter of Orientalist subjects, Jean-Léon Gérôme, is usually credited as Weeks' most important teacher. This, apparently, was not actually the case. While it is true that during his 1874-75 period of study in France, Weeks petitioned to study with Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts, he discovered there was a waiting list. While he eventually did gain access to Gérôme's class, the eager-and impatient-young Weeks decided in the meantime to study with Léon Bonnat, the Basque-born painter of portraits and exotic genre subjects whose technique was much lusher than Gérôme's. In fact, Bonnat, who was very popular with American painters, stressed the marvelous physicality of paint in his own work, which has a highly tactile, almost crusty surface that celebrates the pigment in the manner of the masterful Spaniard Mariano Fortuny. This is the facture that Weeks emulates in his Hour of Prayer and, in fact, in all his canvases, just as he emulates Bonnat's passion for intense color. In comparison with the porcelain finish of Gérôme's canvases, Weeks' paintings are far closer in spirit and technique to those of Bonnat.
Although he explored Moorish Spain (probably under Bonnat's influence) as well as North Africa shortly after his training in Paris, Weeks eventually turned to the radiant scenes of India as his greatest artistic enthusiasm. It was this passion that ultimately made him an artistic celebrity. Generally recognized as the first American to have painted the Taj on the spot, Weeks was also the first American painter to live and work in India for an extended duration. In the travelogue of his final journey to India, From the Black Sea through Persia and India published in 1895, Weeks described his visit to the Pearl Mosque as eloquently as he had painted it: "The 'Moti Musjid,' or Pearl Mosque, which is seemingly restful from its appearance of extreme simplicity, artfully conceals beneath this exterior a great deal of studied proportion and elaborate detail. The broad court, when one enters it on a bright day, has the blinding dazzle of a snow-field, for nothing meets the eye but marble and the deep blue sky. Nothing could exceed the delicacy of color and subtle gradations of tint when the eye penetrates from the outer glare into the depths of shadow behind the arches. But, as in the Taj, there is no darkness in this shadow, and the details of the innermost wall are clearly visible from across the court." The artist's atelier sale catalogue of 1905 describes this work in very similar terms, stressing that it was "most exquisite in its architectural features and the rich and pearly tones of its white marble. The graceful interior of the central court, all of the purest white, with its shimmering purplish shadow, seems to reveal all the extravagant fancy and lazy Luxuriousness of this land of sunshine. In the foreground is a "moolah," or holy man, reading and explaining to a companion who is drinking in his words."
Weeks' final voyage to India was the last of his tours into uncharted territories. By 1901 the artist bemoaned the fact that India had become spoiled by a massive network of railways and was disinterested in returning. There probably was another reason behind his unwillingness to venture far from home again, however. Although he had been reluctant to reveal it, Weeks had begun suffering with a lingering illness that he had evidently contracted during his final trip to India. For nearly two months prior to his death at the age of fifty-four in Paris, on November 16, 1903, he had largely been confined to his house. Shortly before he died, Weeks told his wife that he wanted to go into his studio, purportedly with the idea that being there among his paintings would serve as a tonic. There he died, at 10 in the evening, surrounded by the paintings of far away places he had shared with a public who would never know most of those countries firsthand. At his funeral held two days later, his pallbearers Frederick Bridgman (Weeks' greatest competitor among Orientalist painters), Gari Melchers, Julius Stewart and Henry Bisbing were among the most prominent American ex-patriot artists living in Paris, as well as Weeks' close friends.
In addition to his many international awards, medals and honors, in his later years the painter had been made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France, and in 1898 an officer of the Order of St. Michael of Bavaria. But perhaps one of the most moving tributes to Weeks appeared in his hometown paper: "Of all the Boston-born painters who have made a name for themselves in the European world of art, there is none whose reputation has been greater, whose honors have been more numerous, or whose work has been better known or esteemed. . . . Particularly luminous and spectacular are some of his pictures of the cities of India. . . .Without being theatrical, these scenes are finely dramatic, and they are among the best illustrations of Oriental life that we have in color. The pageantry of Indian life appealed powerfully to the artist, and he rendered it with all its splendor and gorgeousness" (as quoted in Hiesinger, p. 49.)
In 1905 in New York, the artist's widow sold his studio effects as well as his paintings, drawings and studies at auction. The present work was purchased from the sale by a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, George D. Pratt for that museum's permanent collection. Pratt, a scion of the distinguished Pratt family whose fortune was linked to that of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil Company of America, was a discerning collector of contemporary American painting as well as an enthusiast of Persian and Indian art. Among other works, Pratt donated Thomas Eakins' most famous rowing scene, Max Schmidt in a Single Skull, to The Metropolitan Museum; George Bellows' magnificent Anne in Black Velvet to the Mead Art Museum, and a major Thomas Moran landscape to the National Gallery, Washington. Pratt was also an amateur filmmaker whose 1923 film of a trip down the Nile is preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago. His interest in Orientalism clearly manifested itself in the purchase of this painting by Edwin Weeks.
Paintings by Edwin Lord Weeks are represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Syracuse University Art Collection, Syracuse, New York; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie/bpk, Berlin, Germany; The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas; and the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine.
One of the greatest surviving examples of American Orientalist art still in private hands, The Hour of Prayer at Muti-Mushid (Pearl Mosque), Agra is worthy of the greatest public holdings of Western art. Apart from the intrinsic merits of the painting itself, its ornate frame also holds special appeal: the intricate interlace pattern is derived from the long traditions of fine Indian woodcarving much admired by Weeks and his Orientalist contemporaries. Indeed, the pattern of this particular molding relates closely to some of the designs by Lockwood de Forest, which were inspired by the fast-disappearing Indian traditional handicrafts he had discovered in Ahmedabad. Because it is in original condition and in the frame the artist specifically chose for it, the painting appears today exactly as it did one hundred and seven years ago, when it was first exhibited in Paris.
The overall condition of the painting and structural integrity of the support are very good considering the size. Everything is original with no major alterations to both the painting and frame. However, it is my recommendation that the painting may be strip-lined along the tracking edges and re-stretched to the existing stretcher to eliminate the rippled appearance. It should also be cleaned and re-varnished. The old repairs should be removed and treated properly with restoration materials.
The secondary support is a wood stretcher that is original to this piece. It is made of pine and tenon and mortise joints with one horizontal and two vertical crossbars. Each joint has one key. The wood is oxidized and shows writing (Weeks - Mosque) on both the left and right vertical stretcher bars. There is an old label with the number six written on it tacked near the writing on the right. There is also a new label from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with the provenance of the painting in typed text.
The primary support is a medium weight linen canvas. The front of the painting looks as if it is covered with superficial dirt giving the surface a grayish appearance. The varnish layer is thin and looks slightly yellowed as well. The canvas has had a loss of tension, causing the canvas fabric to creep on the bottom half. Also, because of over-extending of the stretcher there is a rippled effect along the top and bottom edges. The edges of the canvas extend to the back of the stretcher and are secured to the side and back with tacks. There are three old patches from previous restoration. There are also two new patches which were treatment for small tears, the first below the signature, the second approximately 36" from the left side. Both tears were relaxed with humidity and set into place with textile welding powder and then patched with Beva film and monofilament fabric, and were then covered with a Beva coated linen. All losses in these two areas were filled and inpainted with Maimeri restoration colors.
The frame is a 10" oak frame with a caseta profile and orientalist design created with plaster in the flat center panel and top outside edge. It has been finished with gold paint and toned with a gray wash. The corner joints are open but secured with plywood brackets from the back.
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