The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

Oil on canvas «Young Courtisan» signed on the chassis Mayer

Thursday 4 May 2017, by Barbara Cogollos

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August George Mayer (Vienna, 1834-1889), student at the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna in 1847-1848, since 1851-1853 entered the studio of the painter Carl Rahl, point of reference in Vienna for many painters of the time. To his master, in 1882, he devotes his Erinnerungen an C. Rahl - Memories of Carl Rahl. He specializes in genre painting and historical subjects, and he becomes also a well-known portraitist.

He lives in Hungary between 1860 and 1863, where he works as a stage painter. His paintings are preserved in the Wien Museum (1887-2003 Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien), the Gemälde Galerie, Wien, and the Liechtenstein Gallery, Vaduz.

The oil on canvas presented here, which has an ink indication «GEORG MAYER» on the chassis, was recently awarded to the Viennese painter on the basis of this inscription. However, it stands out by theme from the painter’s production. It represents a young courtesan, perhaps a woman of a harem, dressed in Turkish, in the taste of orientalist painting.

In vogue at the end of the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century, this movement satisfied the desire for exoticism and orient that inspired the taste of European society at the time. Several orientalist painters, however, had never visited the East and presented characters, atmospheres, scenes of life from the Arab world and the Middle East, always full of charm, exotic mystery and often also a certain sensuality. It is a romantic tendency to see in the exotic world an environment free from the bourgeois conventions. And the harem was one of the most common fantasies.

In this sense, the lady depicted in our painting does not hide a certain sensuality, shown by the attractive look and the transparency of her clothes. Our oil on canvas is really close tothe famous odalisques of NATALE SCHIAVONI (Chioggia 1777 - Venezia 1858).

The painter is a well-known portraitist in Milan under the viceroyalty of Eugene de Beauharnais and then at the court of Emperor Francis I in Vienna, from where he returns to Venice in 1824. He settled then in the Palazzo Giustiniani, where he lives «like a prince». His contemporaries call SCHIAVONI «the painter of grace» because of his portraits of pretty and elegant women, influenced by the models of the Renaissance.

Our portrait shares many elements with an oil on canvas of SCHIAVONI, appeared on the Italian market a few years ago: the placing softly resting on the edge of a table dressed in velvet, the richness of the dress that reveals the pearls around her wrist, the lightness of the veils that allow to glimpse her chest, the rich «tarbouche» placed on the braid, the face slightly inclined.

But the look of our courtesan is even more catchy, giving her a very strong and recognizable personality. Add to this, the safety, the speed and precision of the line and the use of colour confirm the origin of this painting by the brush of a master.

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