Orientalism is a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists, as well as having other meanings. In particular, Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically “the Middle East including North Africa”, was one of the many specialisms of 19th century Academic art. French Orientalist painting was transformed by Napoleon’s ultimately unsuccessful invasion of Egypt and Syria in 1798-1801, which stimulated great public interest in Egyptology, and was also recorded in subequent years by Napoleon’s court painters, especially Baron Gros. Eugène Delacroix’s first great success, The Massacre at Chios (1824) was painted before he visited Greece or the East, and followed his friend Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa in showing a recent incident in distant parts that had aroused public opinion. When Ingres painted a highly coloured vision of a Turkish bath, he made his eroticized Orient publicly acceptable by his diffuse generalizing of the female forms. In many of these works, they portrayed the Orient as exotic, colorful and sensual, not to say stereotyped. Such works typically concentrated on Near-Eastern Islamic cultures, as those were the ones visited by artists as France became more engaged in North Africa. French artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted many works depicting Islamic culture, often including lounging odalisques. Gérôme was the precursor, and often the master, of a number of French painters in the later part of the century whose works were often frankly salacious, frequently featuring scenes in harems, public baths and slave auctions (the last two also available with classical decor), and responsible, with others, for “the equation of Orientalism with the nude in pornographic mode”.
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