Wednesday, November 2, 2011

David Roberts - Mosque El Mooristan, Cairo, Egypt

Price Realized

signed 'David Roberts R.A.' (lower right) and inscribed and dated 'Cairo Dec 29th 1838./Mosque El Mooristan' (lower left)
pencil and watercolour heightened with touches of white, on buff paper
18 7/8 x 12 3/8 in. (48 x 31.4 cm.)

The street, thronged with people is the Sharia Mu'izz id-Din Allah, with, on the left, the facade of the Quasr Bashtak, a Mamluk palace. At the end is the Bayn al-Qasrayn, originally the centre of Fatimid Cairo, dominated by the Syrian-inspired minaret of the tomb of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun, built 1284-85. Also part of the complex is a madrasa and a hospital (or maristan), hence the name given to it in the 19th century.

Roberts returned to Cairo after his trip up the Nile on 21 December and a few days later began making drawings, 'bewildered with the extraordinarily picturesque nature of the streets and buildings of this most wonderful of all cities'. This drawing is likely to have been one of the two that he made on 29 December 'of a Street leading to the Mosque containing the Lunatic Asylum and another of the same street opposite. They are glorious subjects', he commented in his Journal, 'but the doing [of] them is enough to try one's nerves in these crowded Streets, but upon the whole people behave exceedingly well'. Later, the difficulties that he encountered were elaborated, since the letterpress to the lithograph relates to an incident of Roberts being struck by a half-sucked orange as he was making his drawing. Despite this, with his scene-painter's eye for dramatic impact, he has created a striking composition, where the viewer is at street-level, squeezed between crumbling houses with overhanging mashrabiyya windows, until the space opens out to the sky, punctuated by the vertical point of the soaring minaret.

Sir John Pender was a cotton merchant and pioneer of sub-marine telegraphy. He owned a very large collection of British and Continental genre and landscape paintings, including several oil paintings and a dozen watercolours by Roberts.

We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn and Caroline Williams for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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