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The Smoker
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Arty Fact

mbaa's picture

Contributor

Eugene Delacroix made smoker friends everywhere he went.

His charming demeanor and extra cigar sure did help. In 1832 Delacroix famously traveled to Spain, Morocco, and Algeria. When he returned to Paris he brought back seven sketchbooks full of images and ideas for his paintings. But Delacroix painted the Turk Smoking on the Diwan in 1825, seven years before he was offered a voyage to the east. A man of Delacroix’s means and connections was easy prey to the evils of Orientalist thought. His interaction with his exotic subjects at that time was limited to his imagination. Linda Nochlin called this Delacroix’s “imaginary orient”. This place was both imagination and fact. It was a place where everyone was garbed in shiny robes and smoked from chibbuks. They would lay down their arms for a chance to have a smoke. Tobacco companies could fly with this anti-gun campaign. Delacroix may have met the smoker here in the imaginary orient, through photographs and stories that lived in his own head.

When Delacroix got to the real east, he realized it was very different from what he had imagined. He discovered that despite his Arab-centric musings of the east, Jews lived there in a version of harmony with the Arabs. It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t “riots and curfews” bad. He was accompanying the Comte de Morny to finalize the terms of a treaty with Sultan Abd-er-Rahman. De Morny was the grandson of Charles Talleyrande-Perigord, a famous womanizer and important aristocrat.  

While the Comte was taking care of business, Delacroix was chilling with the translators. They showed him around, took him to weddings, he loved it. The Jewish translator, Abraham Ben Chimol, and the Arab translator, Mohammed Ben Abon, appear frequently in Delacroix’s sketchbook. Could the smoker be one of them?

Les Club Des Hashishins or the Hash-eaters club, was an elite circle of stoners. Delacroix was a privileged member along with Baudelaire, Gautier (his mentor), and many more famous men. They met in gothic houses, wearing Arabic costumes, and partaking of drugs like hashish and opium. Early exhibits of cultural appropriation are positively hilarious. Delacroix’s smoker may also have been one of these ridiculous, yet brilliant, gentlemen.

No one knows who the smoker is or even when it was painted. The painting is currently in the coffers of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is not on display and was acquired by the museum from a dead George W. Story. He must’ve been a private collector or a really quiet rich guy. Google has nothing on him. It’s like he never existed.

There’s no way of knowing how Mr. Story came to acquire the painting. There is no way of knowing anything about the painting. Unless the Smithsonian is holding out on us. The painting did resurface in recent history when Jackie Kennedy borrowed it for the White House in 1962. For what occasion, we can only guess.

Sources

Sources

  1. Parisbreakfasts. "Meeting Delacroix." Paris Breakfasts. January 15, 2014. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com/2014/01/meeting-delacroix.html.
  2. Nochlin, Linda. "The Imaginary Orient." In The Politics Of Vision: Essays On Nineteenth-century Art And Society. Routledge, 2018.
  3. "MORNY, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, Duc De (1811 - 1865)." Napoleon.org. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/biographies/morny....
  4. Marlowe, Lara. "Eugène Delacroix: Reflections on a Revolution in Art." The Irish Times. October 06, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/visual-art/eugène-delacroix-reflections-on-a-revolution-in-art-1.3651436.
  5. Smith, Shaw. “New Perspectives on the Voyage of Eugène Delacroix to North Africa: Jews and Arabs Together”. Almoubaker, Mohamed, and François Pouillon. Pratiquer les sciences sociales au Maghreb: Textes pour Driss Mansouri avec un choix de ses articles. C
  6. Piepenbring, Dan. "Baudelaire Gets Baked." The Paris Review. April 20, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/04/20/baudelaire-gets-baked/.
  7. "The Smoker." Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/smoker-6616.
  8. "Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art." Smithsonian.com. August 03, 2009. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/decorating-the-white-house-w....