THE ANTIQUE DEALERS Signed, ‘L. Deutsch’ (lower left) Oil on Panel 28½ x 32 in. (72.4 x 81.3 cm.) Provenance: Private Collection, London Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 12 June 1996, lot 101 Mathaf Gallery, London, 1996
hough many Orientalist paintings seem to strive for timelessness, both in their conservative academic technique and their (often deliberately) antiquated subject matter, others, such as Deutsch’s The Antique Dealers, possess a strikingly modern sensibility.
Illuminated by the bright light of Cairo’s afternoon sun, two bearded men barter over a nineteenthcentury Turkish belt. The ends of the belt are encrusted with semi-precious stones and raised metal decorations, while the strap is adorned with elaborate metallic embroidery. It seems the man on the left is the potential purchaser of this fine accessory, as he considers it most intently. The wide horizontal stripes of his cotton and silk scarf, wrapped securely around his shoulders, suggest that it was woven on a treadle loom by the men of Kerdassa, or one of the other small weaving villages near Cairo. The man on the right gestures offhandedly in his direction, his carnelian signet ring catching the light. “Buy the belt if you wish,” he seems to say, “I have made you my best offer.” In front of the men is a glass case, in which several more treasures are displayed. Such sophisticated pieces of furniture were becoming common in the Khan el-Khalili and Cairo’s other, smaller bazaars, in response to the growing number of tourists who wandered through. Set outside the architectural niches in which Cairene shops were often contained, amidst a disparate array of metalware, textiles, inlaid boxes and other traditional local goods, these sturdy cases enabled acquisitive passers-by to inspect an orderly arrangement of exquisite objects at their leisure. The merchants, on the other hand, could rest assured that neither dust nor careless fingers would injure their delicate wares. The blue-and-white ceramic tile here, for example, in the shape of an eight-pointed star, is probably thirteenth-century Persian or fourteenth-century Central Asian. A chip or crack could hardly be afforded in an object with such an impressive pedigree (it should be mentioned that the eclecticism of the items in this image is historically accurate: the late nineteenth century saw both an unprecedented influx of imported goods into Cairo and a new appreciation of historical pieces, which had become the favourite souvenirs of European travellers).