Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1834)
One of the most famous Romantic painters and artists of his era, Eugène Delacroix was also one of the first artists to travel to North Africa as part of an ambassadorial delegation to the Moroccan sultanate following the French invasion of Algeria in 1830. Although the women in the painting are not themselves veiled, it is the painting’s story and veiling motifs that make it arguably the most famous Orientalist painting of the nineteenth century. Delacroix’s travels took him to Spain, Morocco, and Algeria, where, after several failed attempts to draw Muslim women and visit a harem, he gained unprecedented access to a private Moorish household in Algiers. The painting is a composition of sketches Delacroix made of the a Moorish merchant’s female family members who awaited the painter in a receiving room dressed in their finest clothes. The women are depicted waiting expectantly as a black servant in the far right of the image draws back a curtain as if unveiling the painting and the women’s private apartment to the viewer. The high window in the upper left hand corner lets a beam of light into the room, casting the seated women in a natural spotlight. The image, which literally and metaphorically peeks behind the “veil” of Muslim women’s privacy, was well-received by French audiences in 1834 and influenced generations of painters to travel abroad for exotic artistic inspiration.