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A Syrian Encampment

A Syrian Encampment
signed ‘John S. Sargent’ (lower center)
oil on canvas
22.? x 28.? in. (56.5 x 71.8 cm.)
Painted in 1906.
Captain Robert Langton Douglas, London, England.
Christie’s, London, 1 May 1936, lot 132.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Major V.A. Simmons, Eastrop Fields, Hampshire, United Kingdom.
Sale: Dreweatt, Watson & Barton, Newbury, Berkshire, United Kingdom, 17-18 October 1979, lot 721.
Bartmann collection, acquired from the above.
Hirschl & Adler, New York, 1980.
Sotheby Parke Bernet, Scottsdale, Arizona, 13 February 1982, lot 15.
Dr. Omar Zawawi.
Adelson Galleries, New York and Meredith Long & Company, Houston, Texas, 2000.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
W.H. Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, London, England, 1926, p. 357.
E. Charteris, John Sargent, London, England, 1927, p. 288.
C.M. Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1955, p. 448, no. K052 (as Arabs in Camp).
“Art: The Free Spirited Romantics,” Architectural Digest, June 1983, pp. 94-95, illustrated.
R. Ormond, E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1900-1907: The Complete Paintings, Volume VII, New Haven, Connecticut, 2012, pp. 60, 148, 190, 191, 352, no. 1322, illustrated.
London, England, Royal Academy, Exhibition of the Works by the Late John Singer Sargent, R.A., January 14-March 13, 1926, p. 48, no. 323.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, American Art from the Gallery’s Collection, October 4-25, 1980, p. 85, no. 70, illustrated.
Houston, Texas, Meredith Long & Company, A Delicate Balance: American Art and the Allure of Europe, November-December, 2002, no. 20, illustrated on the cover (as Bedouin Encampment).
New York, Adelson Galleries, Beyond Native Shores: A Widening View of American Art, 1850-1975, Spring 2003, no. 29, illustrated (as Bedouin Encampment).

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Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art
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Lot Essay

The present work is the only oil painting from John Singer Sargent’s series of Bedouin camp scenes painted during his travels through the Near East from 1905 to 1906. Sargent’s numerous watercolors of related scenes, likely based on time spent amidst a sizable tribe in Syria over the course of a few days, are held in prominent museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum. The culmination of these insightfully immediate observations of life, A Syrian Encampment exemplifies Sargent’s most prized body of work that derives from the natural wonders and rich cultures that inspired the artist throughout his travels.

As the only oil in the series, A Syrian Encampment creates a particularly detailed image of what daily life in a Bedouin camp may have been. The tent—the heart of Bedouin social structure—centers the composition, as numerous other tents behind emphasize the vastness of the community, their peaks echoing the surrounding hilled landscape. Amidst this captivating environment, the tribe continues with their usual tasks: the woman at center simultaneously stirs a pot while rocking the baby behind her. The men around her appear to relax, seeking respite from the sun beneath the protection of the tent alongside several goats, an animal that the community heavily relied on.

While camping alongside the Bedouin community, Sargent “felt no need to add a romantic gloss to what he was seeing…In fact, the scenes he chose to record are matter-of-fact domestic incidents of camp life…It is the intimacy of Bedouin life that appealed to the artist…He goes right to the heart of a scene to record it as a living force, an actuality.” (R. Ormond, E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1900-1907: The Complete Paintings, Volume VII, New Haven, Connecticut, 2012, p. 148)

Indeed, the present work completely transports the viewer to the camp. The man at left even appears to rest against the edge of the painting, infiltrating our space. The figures’ individualized characteristics contribute to the sense of familiarity that Sargent establishes with his surroundings. Yet, with his Impressionist brushwork creating a fully immerize atmosphere, Sargent imbues A Syrian Encampment with a compelling sense of exotic wonder that continues to captivate over a century later.

The present work was initially owned by Robert Langston Douglas, a prominent art dealer and director of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
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