Established 1964

Egyptomania

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An Important Egyptian Style Salon Suite, English, Circa 1870.

 

Egyptomania has become a well-documented phenomenon of the nineteenth century. Whilst travellers to the East had long recorded their journeys in either writing or images, this movement in the nineteenth century surpassed Egyptology and became a movement in its own right, which saw the appropriation of the styles or specifics of ancient Egypt to all aspects of contemporary culture and design.

 

The origins of this trend can be dated back to the mid-eighteenth century, when, inspired by the Grand Tour and greatly fired on by the paintings of Hubert Robert and his imitators, Egypt began to strongly influence the design of architecture, furniture and objects d’art. This period saw the quasi-esoteric use of Egyptian themes being offset by increasing realism and accuracy brought back by traveller’s illustrations, at a time when increasing numbers were discovering Egypt.

 

Firstly, General Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt between 1798 and 1801 transformed the relations between the West and the East. The revolutionizing feature of his Egyptian enterprise was that his troops were accompanied by a large – 167 to be exact – entourage of scientists, technicians and artists who would become the founders of modern Egyptology. In the following years this new science developed into a vogue in Europe that was to become Egyptomania. As a result the festivities surrounding the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the inauguration of the Cairo Opera house in 1871, received tremendous response and became a sensation in Europe. For these celebrations the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, commissioned Aida, the first serious attempt to draw upon Egypt’s archaeological treasures. This opera, perhaps the best example of a combination of the labours of artists and archaeologists, took on the character of a national opera and became a symbol for the Egyptian Renaissance and the Western fascination with Egypt.The intensifying of this eighteenth century interest in all things Egyptian, into what we know as ‘Egyptomania’ by the nineteenth century, had two key drivers.

 

The success of Aida, and the performing arts in recreating an era in general, was undoubtedly the second leading factor in creating Egyptomania. Both the Cairo premiere as well as the Paris premiers of Aida created waves of sensation that influenced generations of artists.

 

Aida was entirely conceived by one of the foremost Egyptologists of the day, assigned to the project be the Khedive himself, Auguste Mariette, who was fully involved with everything from the set down to the costumes for the Cairo premiere. Guiseppe Verdi, who had twice turned down the Khedive’s invitation, was so absorbed by Mariette’s synopsis of the opera that he agreed to compose the music for the piece. Mariette's final costumes were a satisfying re-creation of ancient Egyptian attire and his marvellous set transported spectators back to the land of the pharaohs. For the 1880 Paris premiere Pierre-Eugene Lacoste, a far more experience designer, was responsible for designing the costumes and they surpassed even Mariette’s, they were better fitted, further researched and therefore more authentic.

A Fine Egyptian Revival Torchère, Attributed to G. Servant.

French, Circa 1880.

This rediscovery of ancient Egypt opened up wide horizons for artists as it allowed them to mix mediums as well as styles. Pointer, Long and Alma-Tadema all exhibited Egyptian genre pictures at the Royal Academy from the 1860's and furniture designs in an eclectic Egyptian manner were produced during the following decades by Goodwin, Batley, Moyr Smith and Christopher Dresser among other. Orientalist art in the form of sculpture and paintings also became very fashionable, and as such was very much in evidence in the Great Exhibitions of the time – most notably 1851 at Crystal Palace. This introduction of design elements in fine art was to grow into a fascination that brought about the age of Art Nouveau.

 

Finally in the early twentieth century, the discovery of the tomb of Tutenkhamun by Howard Carter (1922) probably caused the most interesting of all the periods of Egyptomania. As the contents of the tomb filtered back to the west, the enormous interest in all things Egyptian was re-stimulated. This fell at a time when the simple elegant Egyptian design would sit in perfect harmony with the high fashion Art Deco style of the period. Hence it was from this period in the 1920’s that some of the most striking and adventurous ‘Egyptomania’ furniture was generated.

 

An Egyptian Revival Black Patinated and Parcel Gilt Bronze Extending Fender

French, Circa 1890

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