Work A Caravan Making a Halt
Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century
Halte d'une caravane
RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage
Prints and Drawings
Montfort worked first with Horace Vernet and then Antoine-Jean Gros. His passion for the Orient developed very early when he was offered an opportunity to sail as a drawing master on a naval frigate (1827-28) in the Mediterranean. Ten years later, a second expedition permitted him to travel through Syria, the Lebanon, and Palestine (1837-38). He brought back hundreds of drawings of high documentary value that provided material for more elaborate compositions, such as this watercolor in 1840.
An ethnographic artist
The 917 drawings by Antoine Montfort in the Louvre are mainly records of the places he visted and the people he met in the Middle East. This major visual documentation is complemented by an account written in his own hand, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. His very detailed travel notes and day-to-day sketches during his two expeditions reveal Montfort's interest in the life and customs of the local communities he encountered. With a keen sense of observation, he made accurate drawings of landscapes, people, and animals and meticulously noted the tiniest details of clothing, objects, and harnesses. Montfort behaved like a scrupulous ethnographer, who readily learnt to speak Arabic and shared the nomads' lives, dressing as they did, traveling with the caravans, and sleeping in a tent. His detailed studies are honest, objective reportage, far from the heroic, timeless vision of contemporary Orientalist painters.
A composite scene
When he returned to France, Montfort made good use of the drawings he had executed in the Middle East. Up until his death in 1884, he composed Oriental scenes and regularly presented at the Salon paintings inspired by his travels. A Caravan Making a Halt, a very accomplished watercolor, is typical of these composite scenes. The Louvre has several drawings that he used as sources, reworking the parts and fitting them together in a coherent whole. Thus, the series of studies of dromedaries (RF 4433-4437; RF 7269, 7277, 7367, and 7416) includes some of the animals that feature in this watercolor, with details of their harnesses and loads. Similarly, several studies of tents (RF 4450-4453) show Montfort's interest in this essential aspect of nomadic life. Lastly, sketches of turbaned shepherds and Arabs, sitting smoking, (RF 7295, 7300, 7323) were direct sources for the two figures in the foreground. All these drawings are based on the artist's direct impressions, and with great restraint he has produced a scene devoid of exoticism. Two paintings on similar subjects were entered in the Salon, which indicates their popularity among art lovers: Arab Camp Near Tiberias (1859) and Arab Camp in the Dead Sea Desert (1878).
BibliographyR. Dussaud, "Le peintre Montfort en Syrie (1837-1838)", Syria, 1920-1921.
R. Michel, cat. exp. L'aquarelle en France au XIXe siècle, Paris, musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins,1983, n 113.
A. Sérullaz, cat. exp. Souvenirs de voyages, autographes et dessins français du XIXe siècle, Paris, musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, 1992, p. 46, p. 50, p. 51, p. 137 et p. 138.
A. Sérullaz, cat. exp. Chevaux et cavaliers arabes dans les arts d'Orient et d'Occident, Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 2002-2003, p. 277.
Antoine-Alphonse MONTFORT (Paris, 1802 - Paris, 1884)
A Caravan Making a Halt
Watercolor over black pencil strokes
H. 24.90 cm; W. 33.30 cm
Mme. Georges Montfort bequest, 1927
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