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Alexandre Bida, 1823-1895

The Ceremony of Dosseh

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Holding his drawings in the same esteem as his paintings, critics, collectors, and connoisseurs regarded Alexandre Bida as one of the greatest draftsmen of the nineteenth century. Theoophile Gautier wrote, "He does not paint, it is true, in the sense that he does not use a brush; but colored drawings like his are equivalent to the hottest paintings, and we do not hesitate to place them among the canvases."1 Indeed, William Walters had this drawing framed and hung in a gallery in his house, which he regularly opened to the public in 1879. (See figure 8 in Johnston's essay showing the drawings gallery as installed by William's son, Henry.) It appeared in the first catalogue of the collection Walters published and in every subsequent edition.

Bida exhibited the drawing at the Exposition universelle of 1855, where it was favorably received by the critics and the public. Walters paid 6,200 francs for the work in January 1865, the highest amount he had paid for any drawing up to that point and roughly equal to the prices of some of his paintings. By comparison, the Daumiers that he commissioned in 1864, The First-Class Carriageand The Second-Class Carriage, cost him only 100 francs each and two Gustave Doré drawings were 500 francs in 1865 (cat. no. 50 and WAM 37.1387). Twenty years passed before Walters paid such a premium sum for another drawing. In 1884, he spent 10,000 francs for Jean-François Millet's pastel of The Sower (WAM 37.905) and, in 1888, he spent 19,000 francs on Eugène Delacroix's Lion and Snake (cat. no. 46).

The drawing's large-scale and complex composition, not to mention its critical acclaim and prestigious provenance, warranted the high price. The monumental architecture, the throngs of people, and the attention to ethnographic details, such as the costumes, banners, and horse trappings, demonstrate the artist's full range of skills and talent. Bida illustrates a scene he may have witnessed on his second trip to the Middle East. Maxime du Camp described the ceremony in his book Le Nil: Egypte et Nubie, published in 1854: "In former times Sheik Saad-Ed-Din, in order to prove the power of Mohammed, whom he served with love, rode on horseback over a road strewn with bottles without breaking any of them. Today, the chief of the order of the Dervishes, founded by Saad-Ed-Din, carries out the same journey. Only, instead of bottles and glasses, men are placed under the hooves of his horse. . . . This is the Dosseh [trampling]."2

Walters, like many collectors of the period, grouped works in albums by subject matter, a favorite one being prayer images. In addition to the theme of Christian devotion, Walters also collected examples of Jewish and Islamic religious practices. He owned eight other works by Bida, all except one religious in nature, including two, Jews at the Wailing Wall (WAM 37.1391) and a Prayer on the Housetop (WAM 37.913) showing a Muslim man called to prayer. Some of these he arranged in an album devoted to the theme, but most were hung in his gallery and published in his catalogues. Cheryl K. Snay

1. "Il ne peint pas, il est vrai, en ce sens qu'il ne se sert pas de la brosse; mais des dessins colorés comme les siens equivalent aux plus chaudes peintures, et nous n'hesitons pas à les placer parmi les tableaux." T. Gautier, in Le Moniteur Universel(11 June 1859?) as reprinted in W. Drost, Exposition de 1859, Théophile Gautier(Heidelberg, 1992), 51. See also E. J. Délécluze, Les Beaux-Arts dans les deux mondes en 1855(Paris, 1856), 287. "Quoique M. Bida n'expose que des dessins, leur mérite est tel, que nous les adjoignons aux peintures qui ont pour objet la représentation de moeurs et de costumes du temps, bien que de pays lointains. Le Retour de la Mecque et la Cérémonie du Dossèh au Caire, une Femme fellâh du Caire et le Barbier arménien sont des ouvrages supérieurement composés, traités avec un goût et un style purs, et qui révèlent de la manière la plus heureuse les habitudes et les costumes de l'Orient."

2. As quoted in The Second Empire: Art in France Under Napoleon III (Philadelphia, 1978), 365.

Medium: black crayon over ink washes on cream, thick, slightly textured wove paper prepared with a white pigmented ground
Dimensions: height: 60 cm, width: 89.4 cm.
Date: 1855
Category: biblical/religious
Subject: orientalism | ritual
Inscriptions and Markings: "Bida" in black ink at lower left
Exhibition History: A Discerning Eye: Nineteenth-century Drawings and Watercolors, Academy of the Arts, Easton, MD, 1998-99; French Master Drawings, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1997-98; The Second Empire: Art in France under Napoleon III, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1978-79, no. 7, p. 365; Universal Exhibition of 1855, Paris, 1855
Bibliography: W.T. Walters Collection: A Descriptive Catalogue. Baltimore: Daugherty and Wright. 1879.: p. 53. Clement, Clara Erskine and Laurence Hutton. Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co.. 1879.: p. 60. Collection of W.T. Walters: Pictures. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery. 1884.: p. 106. Walters Art Gallery. The Walters Collection. Baltimore: Friedenwald Co.. 1903.: p. 122. Walters Art Gallery. Catalogue of Paintings. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore. 1909.: p. 151. Walters Art Gallery. Catalogue of Paintings. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore. 1929.: p. 138. Johnston, William R. Nineteenth-century Art: From Romanticism to Art Nouveau. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery; London: Scala. 2000.: p. 106. Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Second Empire, 1852-1870: Art in France under Napoleon III. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art. 1978.: p. 365. Snay, Cheryl K. "Acquiring Minds: The Early Patrons of Nineteenth-century French Drawings in Baltimore." Master Drawings 42 (Spring 2004): 68-77.: fig. 6, p. 73.
Provenance: Duc De Morny, Paris, 1855; Ernest Gambart, London; Georges Petit, Paris; George A. Lucas (1824-1909), Paris, for William T. Walters (1819-1894), Baltimore, 31 January 1865, purchase [6,200 francs].
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Acquired by William T. Walters, 1865
Object Number: WAM 37.901