Nathaniel Sichel (1843 – 1907)

Nathaniel Sichel

Contemplation

Oil on Canvas

Signed

21 x 16.5in (53 x 42 cm)

Born in Mainz, Germany on 8th January 1843, Nathaniel Sichel gained great repute as a figurative artist, portraitist, historical painter and lithographer. He is best known and won the widest popularity for his arresting depictions of female beauties, who as here were often dressed in Oriental costume. Yet others show them in Far Eastern, Classical or even contemporary attire. Sichel was a masterful painter of the female figure who understood and ably described their beauty through a lightness of brush, sensuous colouring, underlined by strong draughtsmanship. Here we see one of his most skilled images of a young girl in deep contemplation, whose sultry looks and dark liquid eyes are combined with youthful innocence. The painting also demonstrates his ability in describing a variety of textures from her luxuriant hair and heavily brocaded dress against her white chemise and peach-like skin that all contrast with the rough stone wall on which she leans.

Sichel’s art was based on a strong academic training, having studied at the Munich Academy from 1859 to 1862 under the esteemed professor Julius Friedrich Anton Schrader (1815-1900), who gained repute for his historical and genre scenes as well as his portraits. Sichel then furthered his training at the Paris Academy and in 1864 won the coveted Prix de Rome for a painting of 1863 portraying Joseph explaining Pharaoh’s Dreams – a subject that combined an historical and religious theme but above all established his primacy as an Orientalist. While in Rome Sichel painted a number of historical scenes, such as Scene from the Life of Mary Stuart also known as Farewell of Maria Stuart of Melvil (1866, Galerie Pallenberg, Mannheim) and Don Carlos taken Prisoner by Philip II. It is also believed that as part of his travelling scholarship Sichel visited the ancient Egyptian tombs near to the Temple of Thebes.

When the artist returned to his native Rhine provinces, he achieved success as a portrait painter, and also continued to expand his oeuvre while working in Paris. Early on he established great repute for his portraiture when his likeness of the Countess of Ernaudes was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1865. Other portraits include one of Arthur Lionel Payne (Peczenik), dated 1873. Eventually Sichel made his lifelong studio in Berlin and produced visions of Orientalist beauties for which he is best known. An article concerning Contemporary German Art, Royal Academy of Arts Berlin Centenary Festival 1886, (published by George Bell & Sons, London, 1888) notes that Sichel was awarded the Berlin Prize for a painting called An Egyptian Almeh, depicting a woman accompanied by a sphinx-adorned harp as she sings to the Pharaoh, which was described as “one of a long series of female figures all equally charming, turned out with wonderful skill”.

The artist’s work is sometimes compared with that of Max Nonnenbruch (1857-1922), who like him depicted sensuous female beauties, yet Sichel exceeded the latter’s fame and popularity. Central to his art was the female ideal, who appears in a variety of forms – sometimes as a Madonna and Child, painted in a similar style to William A. Bouguereau (1825-1905); on other occasions such as Yum-Yum (Galerie Brunswick, Cologne) the model wears a Japanese robe and holds a fan behind her head. Others include The Egyptian Slave whose sensuality is echoed in Fatima portraying the queen of the harem dressed in satin and wearing a headdress of golden coins and jewels as well as his Odalisque or Turandot, who both wear similar headdresses. In contrast Summer shows a beautiful young woman wearing classical robes set against a floral backdrop while Messenger of Love, portrays a young lady in contemporary dress, clutching a white dove.

Nathaniel Sichel died in Berlin on 12th April 1907. Such was his repute that his paintings were sometimes reproduced as porcelain tiles and plates, notably by K.P.M. (the Royal Berlin Porcelain Manufactory). Furthermore as one of the most popular artists of his day, Sichel’s works are eagerly sort after and can be found in a number of public collections, which in addition to those already cited include those at Cologne: (Oriental Woman), Mainz (Sakountala), Halle (Woman Beggar at the Pont des Arts, 1896), Rostock (Salomé) and Darmstadt Gallery (Philip the Generous at his Wife’s Tomb, 1864).

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