Orientalism as an art movement, developed during the French colonial expansion into North Africa in the mid 19th century at a time of change in social and medical perceptions of women. Orientalist art, depicting exotic, sensual and barbaric customs with almost photographic precision could be seen as an effort to not only justify colonialism but also to pander to nostalgic fantasies of the harem and the eternal feminine.
SYLVIA SAGONA is an internationally recognised specialist on 19th century French society. She retired from the French Department at The University of Melbourne to work on historical documentaries for French and Australian television and is currently researching a book on the invention of the restaurant in Paris in the 18th century.
Jean ¬Léon Gérôme (French, 1824 - ¬1904), After the bath, circa 1880, oil on canvas | 826 x 667 mm, private collection