Arab Horsemen on Lookout in the Mountains

The artist, Eugène Fromentin, was not only a painter, but also a writer, very much influenced by his travels to northern Africa. Take a deeper dive into the work.

Arabs (Cavaliers Arabes en observations dans la montagne) (1873) by Eugène FromentinMilwaukee Art Museum

Eugène Fromentin
This artist, Eugène Fromentin, was well known during his lifetime as both a painter and an author. He wrote art criticism, travel books, and novels.

Two Arab Horseman
This composition—the arrangement of the figures and the scenery—allowed the artist to show the two people in different positions: one on a foreshortened horse with his back to us, the other crouched in profile. The different poses and the foreshortening (or showing an object in depth) reveal Fromentin’s skill as an artist.

Friend or Foe
Although the scene is calm, there is still a sense of mystery: Are the horse-mounted figures in the distance friend or foe?

Fromentin did not care for Impressionism, which was then considered radical, nor for the popular academic style that looked back to ancient Greece and Rome. He followed his own interests and was celebrated for his ability to create a sense of place. The delicately painted sky—its blues, grays, and pinks—evokes a sunset, toward which the Arabs appear to be traveling.

We don’t know specifically what mountain this is, but it is likely one in northern Africa. The artist painted this work after having traveled to Algeria. Back in his studio in France, Fromentin used the sketches he drew during his travels to compose the image.

The clothing worn by the figures is of a sort that would have been worn by people living in the Eastern world. The culture and aesthetic of Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, North Africa, and the surrounding countries inspired a style of art popular in the West (Europe and America) in the 1800s known as Orientalism.

The name comes from the Latin word “oriens,” for “east.” The East was considered exotic, luxurious, and romantic, and informed both painting and the decorative arts (that is, functional objects such as lighting, furniture, or tableware, to name a few).

This artistic phenomenon, which is deeply entangled with complex issues of colonialism and the racism and objectification that accompanied it, nevertheless provides a fascinating glimpse into the cultural impact that these regions had on Western European art in the 1800s.

Credits: Story

Eugène Fromentin
(French, 1820–1876)
Arabs (Cavaliers Arabes en observations dans la montagne), 1873
Oil on panel
17 3/8 × 14 9/16 × 3/4 in. (44.13 × 36.99 × 1.91 cm)
Layton Art Collection Inc., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur N. McGeoch, Sr.
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Milwaukee: Fiercely Independent, Wholly Unexpected
From custard to contemporary art, murals to Lake Michigan
View theme
Google apps