Contemplative Odalisque

Object Details


Contemplative Odalisque


Roger Fenton (English, 1819 - 1869)




London, England (Place created)




Albumen silver print


35.9 x 43.8 cm (14 1/8 x 17 1/4 in.)

Credit Line:

Gift of Professors Joseph and Elaine Monsen

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Three years after traveling in the Crimea, Roger Fenton made a series of Orientalist photographs in his London studio using props gathered during his travels and non-Eastern models. Orientalism refers to just such romanticized depictions of imagined scenes of Muslim culture in the Ottoman Empire and its territories in the Near East and North Africa.

Orientalist scenes were more often fiction than fact. Cultural biases and misunderstandings were laid down on paper or canvas and frequently became the only source of information on the subjects depicted. When a group of these Orientalist photographs was exhibited in 1858, one reviewer described them as "truly representing some phases in the life of this interesting people."

But not everyone so easily accepted Fenton's images at face value; a more astute critic called for "the necessity of having real national types as models." The same model shown here also appears as "Nubian" and "Egyptian" in other photographs by Fenton. This photograph may have originally been exhibited with the title The Reverie. The odalisque, meaning a slave or concubine in a harem, poses upon her sofa. Barefoot, blouse open, her surroundings convey a sensual disarray that conforms to an Orientalizing fantasy of the available woman.

Gift of Professors Joseph and Elaine Monsen

Arrows of Time: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (January 24 to April 2, 1995)
  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA, (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995
Roger Fenton: The Orientalist Suite (July 16, 1996 to October 6, 1996)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), July 16 to October 6, 1996
In Focus: Making a Scene (June 30 to October 18, 2009)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), June 30 to October 18, 2009
A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography (February 4 to June 8, 2014)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), February 4 to June 8, 2014