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Frédéric Bazille

The Digital Catalogue Raisonné

by Michel Schulman
© Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena

Woman in a Moorish Costume

Huile sur toile
99,7 x 59 cm - 39 1/4 x 23 1/4 in.
Pasadena, Norton Simon Museum, Etats-Unis - Inv. M.1997.2.P
Dernière mise à jour : 2023-12-22 18:37:55
Référence : MSb-49


Famille de l'artiste, Montpellier - Mme Meynier de Salinelles, Nîmes, 1941 - Penchinat de Salinelles, circa 1959 - E. V. Thaw, New York, 1969 - Vente Paris, Palais Galliéra, 14 juin 1967 [n.n.] - The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena, 1997.


Paris, Grand Palais, 1910, Salon d'automne, n° 18 - Montpellier, Exposition internationale, 1927, Rétrospective Bazille, n° 30 - Paris, Association des étudiants protestants, 1935, n° 4 (repr.) - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1941, n° 30 - Paris, galerie Wildenstein, 1950, n° 49 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1959, n° 33 - Paris, Palais Galliéra, 14 juin 1967, Deux œuvres importantes de Bazille (repr.) - San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1973, Selections from the Norton Simon Foundation. French Art, n° 38, repr. p. 121 - Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 47, repr. p. 99.


Hamel, Les Arts, nov. 1910, p. 13 - Poulain, Bazille et ses amis, 1932, n° 34, pp. 134-136, p. 217 - Laprade, Beaux-Arts, 29 mars 1935 - Guérif,  1943, A la recherche d'une esthétique protestante,  p. 24 - Sarraute, Catalogue de l'œuvre de Frédéric Bazille, 1948, n° 34, pp. 81-82 [Thèse de l'Ecole du Louvre non publiée] - Daulte, Les Arts, 9 juin 1950 (repr.) - Daulte, Bazille et son temps, 1952, pp. 69, 129, 143, 150 et n° 46, p. 185 (repr.) [Thèse sous la direction de Gaston Poulain] - Bezombes, 1953, n° 302, p. 103 - Daulte, Connaissance des arts, déc. 1970, repr. p. 88 - Marandel, Cat. exp. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 47, repr. p. 99 - Hermann, 1980, Selected Paintings at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, repr. p. 109 - Dolan, Beaux-Arts,  fév. 1990, pp. 99-103 (repr.) - Daulte, 1992, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, n° 50, pp. 69, 122, 125, 134, 137, 143, repr. coul. p. 68 [Réédition de 1952 avec photos en couleur] - Michel, Bazille, 1992, pp. 247-248 - Marandel, Cat. exp. Montpellier, New York, 1992-1993, fig. 30, repr. p. 66 - Bajou, Frédéric Bazille, 1993, p. 163 (repr.) - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné, 1995, n° 49, repr. p. 189 - Hilaire, Jones, Perrin, Cat. exp. Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, fig. 16, repr. p. 40 [Les références sont du catalogue en français] - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné numérique, 2022, n° 49.

The year 1869 was fruitful for paintings. In a letter to his parents, Bazille announced this Woman in a Moorish Costume: "I am working well at the moment. I have just left my palette. I have a moorish model [...] I don't even know how I will pay for my model if, as is likely, I am forced to keep it another eight days to finish it well" [Letter of January 1869 n°. 222 in the 1995 catalogue raisonné].

The woman poses in a moorish costume, with loose, comfortable sleeves. The costume is made of thick fabric, decorated with red and brick twists. She ties a wide belt around her waist, a belt that shows off a buxom woman visible through a thin white bodice. The half-closed eyes, she lowers the head on which a headdress of the same motive as the dress lets partly appear a hair which one guesses abundant. On her feet, she wears slippers with gold embroidery. On the grey-blue wall hangs a dagger in its sheath as well as a black and green striped burnous. On the floor, a golden tray whose decorative effect is important. The fabrics of the costume stand out against the intense and even saturated color of the wall.

The model that Bazille has such difficulty paying for is the one used by Renoir in Femme d'Alger [Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1870] as well as in Madame Stora en algérienne, 1870 [San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor]. In reality, the subject is not new. It had been treated by Delacroix as well as Gérôme, for example in the Dance d'Almeh [Dayton Art Institute, 1862]. This image of a moorish woman is in the pure Orientalist tradition that was very much fashionable at the time. "One may wonder whether, in choosing this setting, the painters of the Second Empire did not remain faithful to their schoolboy enthusiasms in reading the orientals", Daulte rightly writes [Daulte, 1992, p. 125]. But the Woman in a Moorish Costume is the only oriental painting in Bazille's paintings, and it is surprising that he waited six years after the death of Delacroix, whom he admired so much, to take on such a subject.

The woman lowering her eyes is of course reminiscent of the Young Woman with Lowered Eyes and The Fortune Teller, two paintings in which the characters have their eyes treated in the same way, so inconspicuous that they look like they are closed. Once again, Bazille here captures his model in a moment, perhaps a fleeting one, where he abstracts himself from the world around him.

Bazille's portraits have an atmosphere of their own, a dominant tone. This is true of Frédéric Bazille with a Palette, of the Young Woman with Lowered Eyes, the Portrait of Edmond Maître and also of the Woman in a Moorish Costume. The light illuminates the right side of the painting and the face as well as the wall. In this way, we can better distinguish the harmonies and contrasts between the wall with its "steel blue rubbed with carmine" [Poulain, 1932, p. 135] and the brown floor, the reds and whites of the dress. The face is awkwardly rendered in its modeling, which flattens the relief and gives it a uniformity and flatness rarely seen in Bazille. One notices that the woman is surrounded, as Charles Durand-Ruel says, "by impasto enhanced by the artist's hand" [Cf. Catalogue of the sale of June 14, 1967]. Indeed, the outlines appear to have been rubbed out, so that the canvas can still be seen through. Chantelou, in Le Monde of June 30, 1967, asked the question: "Aren't the reported impastos indicative of an underpainting?" His intuition was right, since a study made later by the Norton Simon Foundation was to reveal the presence of another composition under the Woman in a Moorish Costume. Bazille first used his canvas to paint a woman lying on a bed with her arms behind her head. Instead of taking a new canvas for the Woman in a Moorish Costume, he simply flipped it over to use it up this time. In any case, these outlines defined by broad, multi-directional strokes form a kind of halo around the woman, as if Bazille had wanted to accentuate his presence with this surprising technique.

In an interesting study, Thérèse Dolan brings the Woman in a Moorish Costume  closer to the character of Manette Salomon in the Concourt novel published in 1867 [Dolan, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, February 1990]. The author sees this as a source of inspiration for Bazille: "The detailed description of Manette in her oriental costume is found in the Woman in a Moorish Costume by Bazille", she writes. "Throughout the book, Concourt emphasizes the materiality and construction of form", which corresponds to what Bazille writes to Maître: 'I would like to restore to each object its weight and volume, and not only paint the appearance of things. The following passage from Manette Salomon applies perfectly to the Woman in a Moorish Costume: "It is in the pose alone that the woman is no longer woman, and that for her men are no longer men. The representation of her person leaves her unashamed and shameless. She sees herself looked at by artists' eyes; she sees herself naked in front of the pencil, the palette, the sketcher, naked for art, of this almost sacred nudity which silences the senses. What wanders over her and over the most intimate secrets of her flesh is the serene and disinterested contemplation, the passionate and absorbed attention of the painter, the draftsman, the sculptor, before this piece of the real that is her body". Perhaps Bazille remembered the book of the Concourt when he painted the Woman in a Moorish Costume.