Bedouins

7:00 AM

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

BY ANIRUDH VADLAMANI

There is a certain mystical presence in every one of Sargent's works, even when just viewing a duplication from a computer screen. Perhaps that is why this painting speaks to me. It is as if I was taken and dropped into a "Prince of Persia" game, or transported back in time to the rural settlement in the Arabian desert with masked people, who despite living in the harshest conditions, find comfort in their lives. These people are known as the Bedouin.

The Bedouin are an arabic group which span across much of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Within their vast span, they roam in packs, in arabic known as عَشَائِر, or ashāʾir (for you users of the roman alphabet). Each individual ashāʾir has their own set of values and clothes, wearing different designs to represent their own individual clan. The lighter the hues, the closer they are to Saharan Africa, the darker the colors, the closer they are to the Middle-East. 

John Singer Sargent made over 2,000 water color portraits during his illustrious career. However, no set of paintings spoke more than the set he made during his frequent visits to the Middle-East. During this time, he frequently visited a portion of Bedouin nomads who traversed the Arabian desert. On one of his journeys, he allowed the renowned French-American painter to paint them, as they found suitable conditions for living. The result was the masterpiece above.

This painting is a superb water color portrait. However, upon first viewing, I missed what made the painting so beautiful. The water color runs down the portrait, draping the clothes as well as perfectly fading some portions of the painting. Usually fading isn't a good thing in art, but in this case, the faded patterns on the chests of these men as well as the smudged faded edges along the top of their drapery is impeccable, and perfectly employed. It is portions of the painting like this that employ the deft touch only an artist like John Singer Sargent can employ.



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