Seated Odalisque
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Gift of Professors Joseph and Elaine Monsen

Roger Fenton
British, London, 1858
Albumen print
14 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.

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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