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The abandoned gardens of Aschref (Persia)

Jules Laurens

(1825 - 1901) | D.874.13

Date : 1872 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Having failed to win the Prix de Rome in 1845, Jules Laurens, a student of Paul Delaroche, decided to set off on a journey of the Orient in the company of the geographer Xavier Hommaire de Hell. Theirs was a veritable expedition that took them across Greece, Moldavia, Anatolia and Persia and lasted for more than three years. Jules Laurens would return bearing over a thousand sketches and the travel notes of his companion who died at Isfahan in Iran, never reaching home. The latter, describing Aschref in his writings, says, ‘The tent has been erected in the shade of some orange trees exactly opposite a large, limpid ornamental lake in which a pavilion with two columns is reflected, which would seem to be inhabited. […] The whole landscape is ravishing. Complete solitude reigns in the garden, to our great satisfaction.’

The Rouen painting was part of a wave of oriental landscape paintings that increasingly predominated over genre scenes in the second half of the 19th century. Figures featured minimally and the landscape itself became the subject of the work. This example is particularly moving, with the great cypress trees, symbols of eternity, rising towards the sky and reminding us of the death of the painter’s friend. The rippleless expanse of water in the foreground exudes a feeling of tranquillity, melancholy even, and the buildings in the background have a certain grandeur despite being left to fall into abandon.