L'Andalousie au temps des Maures is a rare masterpiece by Etienne Dinet and one of his largest compositions. Although it is offered at auction for the first time, the image is widely recognizable because of the poster it inspired. Combining exceptional size with the most characteristic topic of the artist's oeuvre, it was executed for the most important cultural event to mark the opening of the 20th Century: the Exposition Universelle held in Paris, from 15 April to 12 November 1900. The exhibition had a major influence not only on the arts, but also on architecture and sports. A number of Paris' most noted structures were built for it, including the Gare d'Orsay (now Musée d'Orsay); the Alexandre III bridge; the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais; and the first Parisian 'Métropolitain' line. The second Olympic games were also organized during this period.
It was certain that Etienne Dinet, who was already a well-known painter in 1900 (he had been made Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1896) would contribute to the fair. But it was a suprise, even for him, when it was decided that his works would appear in three different Pavilions. Three of his paintings were loaned by French collectors to the French pavilion; he executed seven paintings and a drawing for the Algerian pavilion; and he was asked to participate in a poster competition organized by the Spanish exhibitors, with the theme 'Andalucia at the time of the Moors'.
Many artists were eager to take part in this contest. Most of them, like Jules Chéret (fig. 2) and Alexandre Lunois, chose to depict a typical Spanish subject with a slight Oriental touch. Dinet was the only one who remained faithful to his beloved theme of the Ouled Naïl women, in a typical Algerian decor. He reversed the subject imposed by the Pavilion of Spain and chose to emphasize the Spanish influence on Algerian architecture and on the way Ouled Naïl women dance. The result was therefore much stronger and richer than its initial aim and could not be limited to a simple poster contest. It is undoubtedly the best testimony of Dinet's admiration for the Algerian way of life, especially in the town of Bou Saâda where he had lived since 1884.
Dinet was not the only artist to be fascinated by this city, located at the south of Algeria, in the middle of vast date groves, and by their most famous residents, the women of the Ouled Naïl tribe. Many French novelists wrote about them, most famously Guy de Maupassant in his Letters from Africa, André Gide in his autobiographical novel Si le Grain ne meurt and Colette in Desert Flower. They all admired the grace and elegance of these women's figure, especially when they danced.
Choosing a nocturnal ambiance, in the arched alleyways of the Old Medina of Bou Saâda, Dinet sets the Ouled Naïl dancer in the middle of the composition and paints her full size, paying particular attention to her adornments -- her mehlfa (cloth), her khadaids (bracelets), her khelkhel (ankle bracelets), her mchasef (earrings), her alaleng bel koubba (a sort of tiara) and her henna tattoos.
We would like to thank Koudir Benchikou for confirming the authenticity of this work.