Orientalism: The Stairway by Renoir

Orientalism describes the Western production of a great slew of images that depicted Algeria and other Middle Eastern countries. These depictions fell within a mythos of the decadent but deteriorating East. Oriental imagery served a political purpose, in the French development of an image of the new French colony of Algeria. Orientalism was a political campaign of perception. French artists were in control of the perception of the new colonies; the images they produced were the main depictions of the new colony to the French people. Without any other source, they were taken as documentaries. The French government encouraged this documentation by sending artists, photographers, and writers to colonies with allowances to produce impressions of the colonies. People were discouraged from referring to the indigenous art production. The Painter of Modern Life by Charles Baudelaire addresses the contemporary perception of “barbarousness” in Eastern art: “What I mean is an inevitable, synthetic, childlike barbarousness, which is often still to be discerned in a perfected art, such as that of Mexico, Egypt, or Nineveh.” (from a paper of my sophomore year for 19th Cent Art Hist)


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