Between 1871 and 1900 this artist exhibited primarily at the Royal Society of British Artists, Birmingham, but also at the top London venues as well. Perhaps bored by the rural scenery in central England, he traveled to more exotic places as Turkey and Algeria to paint. Our own Metropolitan Museum of Art notes that this was the case for many artists, including Rembrandt. However, the rush of artists and poets traveling to “The Orient,” which consisted in the 19th century of Turkey, Greece, the Middle East and North Africa, did not occur until after Napoleon invaded Egypt at the end of the 18th century.
This fine watercolor reflects the interest and popularity of the romance of Arabian Desert scenes in the 19th century, even before the advent of Lawrence of Arabia. Many of the elements of that interest are exhibited here, though Ellis chose to show his subjects more realistically.
For desert nomads, a good, strong horse could mean the difference between life and death. This one is finely painted, displaying an ease of movement even though it is standing still. The bearded figure is dressed in traditional North African style, including a turban. One gets the sense of how closely their lives are intertwined. To the right is a large pile of baskets, pottery and other items essential for the desert lifestyle. Even the detail of the rope that ties down the tent to the stakes was given importance.
The earthy colors give it a natural feeling, and there is a fluidity to the entire scene that helps make it come to life. The work is clearly signed in the lower right corner, Paul H. Ellis.
The watercolor is housed in its original 19th century wood and gesso frame and gilded mount. The frame has acquired a pretty, soft golden color and luminous patina. It has some interesting gesso embellishments on each corner that add to the piece’s interest. It has also retained its original hand-blown glass with bubbles.
The condition of the watercolor is excellent. There is no foxing, staining or insect damage. The frame is also in excellent condition, with its original gilding and gold mat. There is some small losses of gilding, but nothing that detracts from the overall beauty of this fine painting.
With its orientalist theme, limited color palette of natural desert colors, wonderful capture of life in the desert and original frame, this painting is a fine example from a talented artist.
It measures 22 inches wide by 17-1/2 inches high, including the frame.
Late 19th Century Watercolor of an Arabian Desert Encampment by Paul H. Ellis