In „Revue des deux mondes” (1839), the French writer and political economist Louis Reybaud, seeking to capture the essence of travel literature, presents a possible portrait of the writer-traveler: “The traveler is a special being, so dynamic and impressive that, through naive sincerity, deceives himself! Before we can trust him […] we must study him, guess his temperament, ability, nationality, mood, know where he comes from and where he is going, to what extent he collects impressions directly from the source and if it is ensured that no personal inclination alters their character. Such a traveler deceives his audience only by deceiving himself; another more conceited and boastful makes a pedestal out of his writings; we find his inclinations exaggerated or, on the contrary, diminished; the former has a sense of proportion and measures; the latter has a poetic instinct and adorns. ”
The writers are not the only ones embracing the dangers of traveling to the Orient in the early 19th century. The incursions of English and French artists on the paths of Greco-Roman antiquity, in North Africa or at the “gates” of the Orient will complete the stories with images of the Other or with impressions of the “local color”. The orientalism of the 19th century offers us perspectives impregnated by the sensibilities of the period, oscillating between the images of the West-East antithesis and the aesthetics of sensuality or the picturesque. Through sketches and watercolors, these artists have the chance of objectivity, presenting the Orient in its genuine state and without political considerations.
Among the French artists who, on their way to Constantinople or back to Paris, crossed our country, was Louis Dupré, the official painter of Jérôme Bonaparte and the student of Jacques-Louis David. His travels from this period of the renaissance of Hellenistic culture were summarized in a complex journal published in Paris, in 1825: „Voyage a Athènes et a Constantinople ou collection de portraits, de vues et de costumes grecs et ottomans, prints sur lex lieux, d’apres nature, lithographiés et coloriés, accompagné d’un texte orné de vignettes par L. Dupré, élève de David”. The work includes 40 illustrations, hand-colored lithographs, signed by the author and fifty-two pages of text with vignettes.
In Constantinople (1819), where he was hosted by the dragoman of the French embassy, Dupré notes: “I will not talk about the customs of the inhabitants; others, who have more time and talent to observe them, have made them better known than I could”. During the three months spent in Constantinople, the artist is presented by Jouannin to influential families of various ethnicities and denominations, for whom he made numerous portraits. “Aren’t we much happier than you Westerners?”
You don’t have this sun, the climate and the uninterrupted rest “, says a priest, his interpreter in the house of the Duz-Oglou family. The artist approves it but adds: “… but we are safe from the plague and the kandjar.”
Dragoman Jouannin also facilitated his departure from the capital of the empire (to Vienna), together with the suite of 1500 people of the ruler of Moldova, Mihail Suțu, who was heading to Bucharest. In gratitude for the chance to travel with an “oriental court”, Dupré reserves a few pages of his writings to describe some picturesque moments on the way to Bucharest and a short biography of the ruler. During the trip he makes his portrait as well as the portraits of some family members, and the moments of rest are marked by sketches that will be the inspiration for the vignettes of the text.
“The combination of Greek, Ottoman and Polish costumes captured at a halt in the middle of the forest, near a mountain, crossing a village, a fortress, a river, offered me as a painter, the joys of an infinite variety.” The suite was completed by: “Arnauts, Moldovans, Tatars, Albanians and dervishes”. In their midst the painter felt “an extra contrast.”
Sheets 38 and 39 of the album published in 1825 contain the portrait of the ruler and his daughter Elena, described by academician George Oprescu: “The ruler, lying on a red sofa, is dressed in a yellow mantle and a green vest, over which he wears an azure cloak, with sable fur, on his head with a black fur hat with a pistachio green bottom.
Princess Elena is represented standing in a graceful attitude. She wears a lilac dress embroidered with flowers, with some embroidered details on the edge, under which we can see a skirt of the same color, but without any ornament. An Oriental shawl surrounds her waist. The slippers are red, made of embroidered silk, and on her head, she wears a white finery with golden flowers, placed on the forehead, on the left eyebrow, ending with a kind of red, gold coil. ”
In another edition of the album, with numerous additions, will appear a standing portr
ait of Mihail Suțu (Michel Soutzo, Prince of Moldavia), the reproduction of a painting exhibited at the Paris salon of 1833, under the name “Portrait en pied du Prince Michel Soutzo ”.
At the “Museum of Ages” you can admire two chromolithographs after Louis Dupré, the one depicting Elena Șuțu and the standing portrait of Mihail Suțu.
Text: Alexandra Rusu
Photo: Mihail Suțu, Ruler of Modavia and his daughter Elena Suțu, from „Voyage a Athènes et a Constantinople ou collection de portraits, de vues et de costumes grecs et ottomans, prints sur lex lieux, d’apres nature, lithographiés et coloriés, accompagné d’un texte orné de vignettes par L. Dupré, élève de David”, Paris : Imprimerie de Dondey-Dupré, 1825.
Louis Dupré, Voyage a Athènes et a Constantinople ou collection de portraits, de vues et de costumes grecs et ottomans, prints sur lex lieux, d’apres nature, lithographiés et coloriés, accompagné d’un texte orné de vignettes par L. Dupré, élève de DavidParis : Imprimerie de Dondey-Dupré, 1825. http://digitool.bibnat.ro/
Nicolae Iorga, Portretele doamnelor române publicate de N. Iorga Președintele comisiunii, București, 1937, institutul de Arte Grafice „Lupta” N. Stroila.
George Oprescu, Țările Române văzute de artiști francezi (sec.XVIII și XIX), Cultura națională, 1926.
Louis Reybaud, dans La Revue des deux mondes, tome 1,1839, p. 178, în https://www.cairn.info/revue-d-histoire-litteraire-de-la-france-2004-1-page-71.htm