The myths surrounding the harem and its female slaves
focusing on Odalisques
Part Five. Conclusion
A Visit, Henriette Browne, 1860. Privately owned.
On April 7th, 2020, Browne’s A Visit was auctioned as part of Sotheby’s Orientalist Sale. The Orientalist Sale is an annual event, held by the auction house since 2012. In 2019, the sale reunited 400 participants from 44 countries. The painting was estimated between 50,000 and 70,000 GBP, it eventually sold for 795,000 GBP. The existence of a sale dedicated to Orientalist art, organised by one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art, two decades into the 21st-century demonstrates an ever-going interest for the movement. Not only is the interest still present, but it also is strong enough to allow for a painting to sell for over three-quarters of a million pounds. This interest proliferates despite art historians as well as sociologists, historians and artists arguing for the past four decades that Orientalism is a dangerous and powerful tool vehiculating imperialist and colonialist views, as well as spreading degrading stereotypes regarding Muslims, especially Muslim women. This study has explored the ways in which these views and stereotypes came to be, through historical accounts, travel literature, the first depiction of an Odalisque and an extensive analysis of four 19th-century Western artists to understand the shift and furthering of these. In the final part of this research, arguments were brought forth regarding the contradictions of 19th-century Odalisque depictions, the reasons why they are chosen to represent the Orient and the impact of the depictions. This study has reached several conclusions. First of all, the myths surrounding the harem and its female slaves are based on subjective individual accounts influenced by imperialist and colonialist ideologies. Second of all, the 19th-century has allowed for the reinforcement of misconceptions of the East, as well as the birth of a large market revolving around Orientalist paintings, that still exists today. Third of all, depictions of Odalisques have been used as a way to depict female nudes without the limitations of Western conventions, similarly to what had been previously done with mythological nudes. However, Odalisques were meant to depict women existing in a different location but the same timeline. Thus, these depictions had an impact on real-life Muslim women. While Orientalism as a whole has helped create a false legitimisation of negative stereotypes about Muslims, Odalisque depictions can be argued to have played a pivotal role in the West viewing Muslim women as idle, submissive, promiscuous, require saving. Finally, these negative views and stereotypes were carried into the 20th and 21st-centuries. As numerous professions come together to challenge the heritage of Orientalism, its ramifications have yet to be dismantled.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in