Frederick Arthur Bridgman’s dreamy, gazing Orientalist work The Siesta is a detached vision of a distant world. Like any artist of his day worth his salt, Bridgman studied in Paris, learning under the great academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme whose stunning visions of classical and historical scenes appear upon first glance like photographic reproductions of ancient worlds. Taking the intricate sheen, precise outlines, and Oriental tastes of the Paris Academy to the United States, Bridgman dominated the huge market for such genre paintings. Initially remaining in Paris for some time, Bridgman made a number of journeys to the French occupied territories of North Africa in the early 1870s, compiling a great many sketches which he would work from for decades to come. Known through his deft reproduction of his teacher’s methods and skills, Bridgman soon fine-tuned his own style, accumulating a vast collection of native North Africa dress, architectural elements, and curiosities which he painted from life in his Paris studio. Back in New York his works sold en-mass and his exhibitions were as expansive as the life’s works of many artists.
The Siesta is typical of Bridgman’s ability to utilise a bright palette to evoke the exotic and using, as was the fashion, a model to anchor the image in a sensualized mysticism. The genre of Orientalism, now suffused with the negative connotations of imperialism and exploitation, was once an immensely lucrative career choice for Academy painters. Indeed, after the Napoleonic Wars, many of the world powers amassed a huge collection of objects from Eastern cultures and, with an increased verve for archaeological expeditions, Western interests turned towards Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures. Not always with the intention to control and exploit, many artists and intellectuals were respectful and deeply fascinated by these distant worlds. Within Bridgman’s The Siesta one can see and feel his respect for the traditions he depicted.
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