Léon Cogniet (French, 1794-1880)
oil on fabric, Framed: 62.9 x 57.2 x 8.9 cm (24 3/4 x 22 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.); Unframed: 42.5 x 36.5 cm (16 11/16 x 14 5/16 in.). Bequest of Noah L. Butkin 1980.249
Although many artists of the Romantic movement sought evidence of ideal existence in the Orient and the Near East, Cogniet instead chose to depict an Eskimo with her distinctive tattoos. Indeed, this painting is among the first to use images of an unspoiled, "primitive" culture as an embodiment of truth and beauty.
When this painting was shown in an 1826 exhibition, the accompanying catalogue stated that it was "painted after nature." However, the artist never traveled to the Arctic. Still, he may have actually seen an Eskimo. In 1825 a Paris newspaper reported that an Eskimo woman and her dog were performing in the city as part of a curiosity show. The show also included a massive panoramic view of Baffin Bay (located between northeast Canada and Greenland). That painting may have inspired the dark sky and icy landscape in Cogniet's picture.
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