Etienne Dinet at IMA, an orientalist who advocates Islam…

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“Portrait of a young girl, dreaming”, 1905, private collection

Musée d’Orsay, Musée Fabre in Montpellier, Musée de Reims, Galerie Ary Jan… all lent their paintings  for the retrospective of Etienne Dinet, born in Paris in 1861, who died in Paris in 1929, just after going on pilgrimage to Mecca. The Franco Lebanese curator Mario Choueiry, had wanted to do this show for ten years but it was feared that the Orientalist theme might encounter oppositions at IMA (Institut du Monde Arabe), which is largely supported by North African countries. In Algeria, Dinet is a national hero and was sacred “Master o Algerian painting” in the 1970’s. The museum in Bou Saâda created in his house, keeps many of his paintings, including some nudes which are in a locked room.

Group observing the crescent of the moon, 1909, Musée d’Angers

This artist who seems full of contrasts, believed in Islam and in the French ruling of Algeria, never married but lived with Sliman Ben Ibrahim and his wife, and painted nude women and religious life, in a realistic way.  H head studied at Lycée Henri IV and Ecole des Beaux Arts under Bouguereau. He admired Millet, Cézanne and Gauguin but fell in love with Algeria on his first trip there in 1884. For ten years, he visited regularly, learned the language and decided to only paint Algerian scenes from 1895 onwards. He moved to the oasis of Bou-Saâda, South East of Algiers in 1904, just when Paris was becoming the center of all artistic avant gardes. He published many books with Ben Ibrahim and converted to Islam in 1913.

“Love slave and light of the eyes”: Abd-el-Gheram and Nouriel-Aîn, arab legend, 1900, Musée d’Orsay. Dinet signed the painting in arabic on top right

The painting “Love Slave…”,  the most well known and reproduced of the artist’s, was acquired by the French Arts Minister in 1901 for the Musée du Luxembourg. It’s interesting to notice that Dinet’s name in arabic is painted in the top right corner. His romantic scenes are  painted along more religious ones and he works at the same time on political issues such as turning Bou Saâda’s French administration  into a civil one rather than military. During WWII, he travels seven  times to France and insists with  the French government creating muslim cemeteries for the soldiers killed in the war and returning wounded soldiers to their country. This we know thanks to the biography written by his sister, Jeanne Dinet Rollince. He mentions the colonial “ignominy” and campaigns for the building of Paris’ Grand Mosque after the war. It would be inaugurated in 1926.

The painter at work

Far from painting harem scenes, he idealizes young women’s bodies observed in the open or in the studio and describes passion in a number of canvases. He also writes a “Life of Mohammed” which he illustrates and publishes in 1918. All his books are shown in the exhibition, the most important one being the illustrations he made of  “The Novel of Antar“, a pagan poet and warrior and partly legendary character, one of the most popular story of the Arab world. His most interesting painting for me are the scenes around Ramadan where his characters look at the crescent of the moon.

Mario Choueiry, the curator of the show

A table shows stamps made of his work and life, a few photographs relate his fame, and numerous portraits of imams and religious scenes end the show which opens up a new vision of Algerian French relationships at the beginning of the XX th century. Jack Lang who has been reelected president of IMA at 84, must be very happy with this show.

Until June 9, Institut du Monde Arabe. And don’t forget to see the exhibtion on perfumes in the Orient on the second floor.

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One Comment on “Etienne Dinet at IMA, an orientalist who advocates Islam…”

  1. What a fabulous way to start the day:) Group Observing the Crescent of the Moon is one of the most poetic titles for a work I’ve ever seen. That together with the absolute sense of wonder on the faces! Wonderful painting which I never knew existed until today…
    Thanks for sharing!

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