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Ludwig Deutsch, Orientalist Master

The Palace Guard by Ludwig Deutsch, 1900
The Palace Guard, 1900

Ludwig Deutsch
was born on the 13th of May, 1855 in Vienna, Austria. He studied in Vienna briefly before moving to Paris in his twenties, where the Academic art of that period focused on Orientalism. Deutsch's work is characterized by high attention to detail, both in architecture and costume, dynamic color contrasts and effortless compositions. His use of body language in how it defines his subjects is also a key ingredient in his work that we'll be exploring more here.

In The Palace Guard above, Deutsch uses a full toolbox of painter expertise to narrate this scene. Observe the textures in this painting. The roughness of the stone walls with architectural details in the floral motifs at left. The intricate contrasts of materials in the man's costume is truly mesmerizing here: a black mesh underdress with an orange sash and green patterned headdress and scarf. Note the recurring motif of patterned circles in the fine pattern of the scarf, the belt that holds his swords, the hanging curtain behind him, and in the architectural details of the wall beside him. Visually he pulls us in before we even try to discover the narrative. Love the way the rich brown tones of his skin contrast with the neutral tone of the ivory robe.

Ludwig Deutsch - The Scholars, 1901
The Scholars, 1901
Deutsch has an effortless command of body language. Note how he uses hands in this painting, both to gesture to and cradle knowledge, while the youth has his hands hidden from us to suggest knowledge that has not been acquired or appreciated yet. Deutsch uses texture here once again with incredible attention to detail in the fine lines of the fabric. Deutsch also uses color itself as a motif in that the youth wears a light colored robe to suggest his lack of knowledge compared to the older scholars, who wear darker colors. I love the facial expressions here also. Some of the muslim architectural details are worth observing, especially the intricate patterns in the wood and the rug beneath their feet. Note the very cool highlights scumbled against the open door of the cabinet, and how the corner of the room beside them remains in shadow. Deutsch is a painter who uses every conceivable detail to tell a simple story yet letting his characters become the story.

Ludwig Deutsch - The Morning Prayer, 1906
The Morning Prayer, 1906
Love Deutsch's use of complementary colors and keeping the figure in light against a corner in shadow. His love of detail is almost dizzying. The giant urn against the wall has a rustic texture that is palpable. And yet Deutsch captures the devotion on this man's face and the way his hands are raised beside his face in prayer. Deutsch constantly reminds of the importance of details, especially architectural details, have in creating a narrative. The intricacy of patterns are everywhere, in the rug, the stainglass windows, the borders along the walls, and even in the fabric of the scholar's dress itself. It implies that little is taken for granted in this world, even if not entirely accurate historically, and the message of devotion is very clear.

Ludwig Deutsch - The Inspection - 1883
The Inspection, 1883
A stunning work. Lavish textures with soft light. That golden tapestry looks velvety and soft. Love the cool highlights on his rich, dark skin. Look at the fine folds of skin on his fingers. Deutsch outdoes himself with the realism...look at the intricate pattern of the brass urn alone and how tiny those brushes must have been to paint that. Deutsch clearly must have done an enormous amount of research to convey this level of detail. Yet, in spite of this unnecessary attention to detail Deutsch manages to stay central to the main figure and the way he admires the helmet in his hands. Deutsch has a keen understanding of human nature and it definitely shows here, even with all the detail he provides for us here.

Ludwig Deutsch - The Scribe, 1904
The Scribe, 1904
Deutsch paints this craggy wall with an incredibly ornate frame around the door's frame. Look closely and see how much he uses grey to indicate the subtle highlights, while using a fine red line to heighten the spaces between the patterns. Ingenious. And the chair the scribe sits in has an elegant pattern all its own. I love how the scribe sits lazily, gazing...lost in thought. Curiously, he gives our eye a rest by painting the drapery of the scribe in very simple brushstrokes with warm, soothing tones. Deutsch is telling us that writing is not just writing, but observation. And in the light, airy sense of being outside here, with no shadows, we feel that calm afternoon quiet in this scene. And we respect it.

Ludwig Deutsch - The Tribute
The Tribute, ca.1900's
Gorgeous colors and textures here in the fabrics of the main figures. Look at the way Deutsch uses green to indicate the character of the three men heading towards the steps. The figure carrying the mysterious box has a grace to him, while the soldier to the far right with helmet and armour only carries a sword. The Venetians would have loved Deutsch. The architectural detail of the walls seem to have a character of their own, and convey the importance of the person they are paying tribute to. This is a hypnotic painting both for its narrative and the sumptuous details that Deutsch is so fond of in Orientalism. We can learn so much from Deutsch about how figures must always be doing something, even if they appear to be still, and how they are dressed describes their personality, and finally body language and facial expression are not just part of the painting...they are the painting. Deutsch takes nothing for granted. Although this level of dedication to his craft is dizzying, it reminds us of how much importance setting plays in a narrative. And the poetry of the subject. Deutsch is a painter of amazing finesse. His empathy in rendering the figure is what moves me in spite of the detail. Deutsch is a realist's realist.


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