Charles Sprague Pearce, “The Arab Jeweler,” circa 1882, oil on canvas, 46 x 35 3/8 inches, Metropolitan, New York

In this occasional series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we detail a fantastic oriental masterwork circa 1882.

Nestled into a dimly lit corner with reed pipe in hand, an Arab jeweler delicately stokes a small bed of coals. Surrounding the figure are the tools of his trade — a small anvil, tongs, a ceramic bowl, and a jar of oil. Just as captivating as his activity is the sitter’s cool, sky blue coat embroidered with gold trim, and his woven cap.

The sights, sounds, culture, and color of the orient have here been masterfully captured, frozen in time, by the accomplished painter Charles Sprague Pearce. The image is tightly rendered and cropped, and there is a wonderful sense of intimacy in “The Arab Jeweler” that pulls viewers into the scene, encouraging them to participate in its narrative. Completed circa 1882, the painting is a product of the artist’s four-month excursion along the Nile in the early 1870s, which undoubtedly led to his particular interest in the oriental or “exotic.”

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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