THE MANDOLIN PLAYER Signed, inscribed and dated ‘L. Deutsch Paris 1904’ (lower left) Oil on Panel 20¼ x 23¾ in. (51.4 x 60.4 cm.) Painted in Paris in 1904 Provenance: Anonymous sale, Phillips, London, 19 November 1996, lot 52 Mathaf Gallery, London, 1997 Literature: Olga Nefedova, A Journey into the World of the Ottomans: The Art of Jean-Baptiste Vanmour (1671–1737) (Skira, 2009), p. 25 (illustrated), p. 63
he year 1904 was a defining moment in the history of Orientalism. It saw the birth of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly and the death of the undisputed master of the genre, Jean-Léon Gérôme. Deutsch’s work, painted in Paris in this year, seems to unite these disparate events in its eloquent combination of a musical subject and its meticulous, academic style.
The instrument that the man plays is an ‘ood, recognised by its wide body, short neck and seven double strings (though the title of the work specifies a mandolin, these typically had eight strings; Deutsch correctly depicts the ‘ood with seven). In the ‘definitive’ edition of An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, published in London in 1860, Edward William Lane explains the ‘ood as follows: “The ‘ood [derived from the Arabic word for ‘wood’] is a lute, which is played with a plectrum. This has been for many centuries the instrument most commonly used by the best Arab musicians, and is celebrated by numerous poets.” (p. 361) Though Lane does not expand on this description of the ‘ood, Deutsch’s contemporaries would have known it well. Since at least the seventeenth century, European artists and travellers had delighted in descriptions of Middle Eastern women singing and playing these stringed musical instruments. From 1900, moreover, the ‘ood had gained even broader cultural appeal, due in part to the revival of interest in historical music and, at the same time, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch genre painting.