A Sheikh and his son entering Cairo on their return from a pilgrimage to Mecca

Robert Hawker Dowling1874

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

Robert Dowling spent 1872–73 in Cairo and worked for a total of three years on this major orientalist picture. His intention was ‘to produce a careful illustration of Oriental life, architecture, and costume, as he saw them in the streets of Cairo’ (Mr Robert Dowling’s Oriental Picture, Launceston, 1877, p. 1). So successful was he that those of his contemporaries who knew Cairo could identify, from the entrance to the mosque on the left, and the distinctive wooden balconies, or mashrabiyyas that project from the facades of the buildings, the very street which forms the backdrop to this scene.

In the lower half of the canvas Dowling arranged his dramatis personae in a frieze-like composition. The sheik and his son, mounted on Arab horses, are at its centre, preceded by musicians, attendants and servants, and followed by two caparisoned camels, one conveying the younger children of the family, ‘who, in Mahomedan countries, always take precedence of the mothers, and, last of all, away up that narrow street … on another camel, the women of the Sheikh’s harem, attended by a Moorish servant’. (Mr Robert Dowling’s Oriental Picture, Launceston, 1877, p. 4)

Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

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  • Title: A Sheikh and his son entering Cairo on their return from a pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Creator: Robert Dowling
  • Date Created: 1874
  • Location Created: London, England
  • Provenance: Exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1875; acquired, and subsequently gifted, by a group of Subscribers, 1878.
  • Place Part Of: England
  • Physical Dimensions: w2445 x h1393 cm (Unframed)
  • Additional information: Dowling exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy in 1875. It was badly hung and failed to find a buyer, and he decided to send it on tour to Australia. The painting was exhibited in Launceston in 1877, for which occasion an eight-page booklet, Mr Robert Dowling’s Oriental Picture, was published. It then continued on to Melbourne, where it was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria. Henry Dowling, the artist’s brother, organised a subscription, and the painting was presented to the Gallery by subscribers the following year. The painting retains its original gilt frame, splendidly decorated with Pharaonic motifs.
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Presented by a committee of gentlemen, 1878, =A9 National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas


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