Frederick Arthur Bridgman Oriental Interior
Technic: Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 70,2 x 111,8 cm
Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Art Movement: Orientalism
Shafts of blinding hot desert light infiltrate the shadowy cool of a cafe interior in Biskra, Algeria, where clustered figures converse. In the center, illuminated by a skylight, a card-playing couple lends its atten-tion to a flute player. No respectable Arab woman would enter such a public place, so the pink-clad, bejeweled female suggests the paid assignation to come, adding a hint of eroticism and danger to the scene. So vivid is Bridgman’s rendering that one can sniff, as he did, “perfumes of musk, tobacco, orange-blossoms, coffee, hashish.”
The town of Biskra was the last safe outpost for Westerners in hostile Algeria; French emigres had settled it after the Franco-Prussian War. Bridgman, an American expatriate living in France, traveled to Egypt and Algeria in the 1870s, bringing back scores of drawings and oil sketches, and a collection of decorative objects, fabrics, and jewelry. With these, the painter outfitted his two Parisian studios, using them in pictures for decades to come. When Bridgman returned to America for a brief visit in 1881, carrying with him 320 paintings with Eastern themes, the exhibition and subsequent sale were astonishingly successful; the exoticism and sheer luxury of scenes such as this complemented the glitter of the Gilded Age.