Etienne Dinet (1861-1929) was a French painter, illustrator and orientalist. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris with Pierre-Victor Galland, at the Académie Julian – with William Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. In 1882, he and Lucien Simon visited Algeria. Thanks to an artistic scholarship, he arrived there again in 1884. He was so fascinated by the uniqueness of Algeria that he settled permanently in one of the oases and then adopted Islam and a new name, Hadj Nasr Ed Dine Dini. He also published several books with his own illustrations telling about the daily life of the region’s inhabitants, including “Mirages” in 1906. Dinet’s works were commented on by his friend Sliman Ben Ibrahim, familiar with the legends of Saharan Bedouins.
Description of the painting:
“The Sorceress Zeineb” is one of many of Dinet’s works depicting a harem scene and his fascination with a different culture. The sensuality, sexuality and nudity combined with deep, warm colors capture the atmosphere and the weight of the air bathed in African, desert sunlight. This new world, breaking Western European norms, allows one to immerse themselves in decadent vapors of pleasure to tame the unknown.
Let us travel to mysterious Algeria. Since its conquest by French King Charles X in 1830, its lands have lured artists with visions of sensuous, moral-breaking harems and a scent of opium in the air. The colorful land has attracted curious onlookers who would settle in exclusive hotels and painters eager to explore the essence of the new culture. The latter would usually go south of the country, blending in with the locals to observe, paint, learn, and try to understand. The region, still untouched by European civilization, attracted the hungry newcomers for its new, liberated experiences*.
At the same time “Mirages” was published, the artist paints “The Sorceress Zeineb”. This is one of many harem scenes Dinet has captured. Most likely, the canvas is an extension of the themes explored in “Mirages”. A man and a woman are lying in bed. They embrace their bodies. The naked Algerian woman wears only a red turban with a veil flowing over her body. Silver bracelets decorate her wrists and ankles. The fingers of both hands are adorned with numerous rings, which number is equal to the amount of hearts the woman has won, as per the annotation referring to Ibrahim in one of the auction catalogs. Algerian women were shrouded in mystery and mysticism, which was amplified by the intoxicating “Oriental poisons” which broke the barriers of knowledge and morality, granting them temporary freedom, happiness, and oblivion. The man lying beside her appears to be in the same state.