Cover image for Noble dreams, wicked pleasures : orientalism in America, 1870-1930
Noble dreams, wicked pleasures : orientalism in America, 1870-1930
Edwards, Holly.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press in association with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiii, 242 pages : illustrations (some color), music ; 32 cm
General Note:
Published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., June 6-Sept. 4, 2000, the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Md., Oct 1-Dec. 10, 2000, and the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, N.C., Feb. 3-Apr. 23, 2001.
Roots and others / Oleg Grabar -- A million and one nights : Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 / Holly Edwards -- "The garments of instruction from the wardrobe of pleasure" : American Orientalist painting in the 1870s and 1880s / Brian T. Allen -- Speaking back to Orientalist discourse at the World's Columbian Exposition / Zeynep Çelik -- The sheik : instabilities of race and gender in transatlantic popular culture of the early 1920s / Steven C. Caton -- Catalogue of the exhibition / Holly Edwards.
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NX503.7 .E355 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures explores complex American attitudes toward the Near East--as revealed in collected paintings, interior design, and multiple vernacular forms--at the formative moment of industrialization and the crystallization of a truly mass culture. Published to coincide with the multimedia exhibition that opens at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and travels to the Walters Art Gallery and the Mint Museum of Art, this catalogue considers how urban, mercantile, Protestant America represented the Islamic world of the Middle East and North Africa in ways that say more about itself than the foreign culture.

This gorgeously illustrated volume first looks at the use of Orientalist stereotypes by some of the country's most important high art painters of the nineteenth century: Frederic Edwin Church's treatment of the exotic terrain through a lens of deep religiosity; a more cosmopolitan reading of the harem girl by John Singer Sargent; the perfumed alternative to industrial capitalism conjured in the landscapes and market scenes of Samuel Colman and Louis Comfort Tiffany; and interpretations of the Orient as emancipatory by Ella Pell, the only major woman Orientalist. The book next traces the popularization of Orientalism in the decorative arts (including a few treasures from Olana, Church's Moorish-style home on the Hudson), on Broadway, and in Hollywood, as well as through advertising that linked consumer products with visual suggestions of exotic sexuality and through cultural objects, such as the Shriners' fez.

The generous color plates show both an innocent romanticization of the Orient and a darker, heavily eroticized version of Oriental "otherness." An excellent chronology and bibliography, in addition to expert essays by both Americanists and Islamicists, give context to absorbing images. Though a perfect companion for visitors to the exhibition, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures is also for anyone seeking an uncommon take on the development of American self-understanding.

Exhibition Schedule:

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Williamstown, Massachusetts
June 11-September 4, 2000

The Walters Art Gallery

Baltimore, Maryland
October 1-December 10, 2000

The Mint Museum of Art

Charlotte, North Carolina
February 3-April 22, 2001

Author Notes

Holly Edwards is an independent scholar and specialist on Islamic art. She is the author of The Genesis of Islamic Architecture . Contributors to the catalogue include Brian Allen, Assistant Director for Curatorial Programs at the Clark Art Institute; Steve Caton , Professor of Social Anthropology at Harvard University; Zeynep Çelik , Professor in the School of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology; and Oleg Grabar , Professor Emeritus at the School of Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Orientalism, the most interesting period in the Western world's long encounter with "the mysterious East," began in 18th-century Northern Europe and over the next several decades was exported to the United States in the able hands of avatars such as painters Jean-Lon Grme and John Singer Sargent, architect Louis Sullivan, and even the dancer "Little Egypt." Although published alongside a traveling exhibition, this fascinating and very readable work is what a museum book ought to beDa well-illustrated, stand-alone study. Edwards has compiled a full examination of this branch of American exoticism and how it permeated the culture from high to low. The half comprising the exhibition catalog demonstrates its ecumenical approach. Included among exceptionally beautiful paintings by Sargent, Frederick Church, Henry O. Tanner, and others are more lowbrow examples of a broad-based cultural idea: heavily tasseled Shriner regalia, Fatima cigarette ads, and titillating clichs from the Ottoman Pavilion at Chicago's 1893 World Colombian Exposition. Edwards has included five interesting essays from contributors having both Islamic and American studies backgrounds. Although their accessibility is masked by preening, academic-sounding titles, behind this veil curious readers will find an exotic art-historical jewel. A terrific purchase for both public and academic libraries.DDouglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The impact that the "Orient" (i.e., the Islamic world) had on western Europe in the early 19th century has been thoroughly explored. However, the influence that the "Orient" had on US art and culture is examined for the first time in this richly documented volume, which grew out of a traveling exhibit of 90 objects organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute. The items selected range from high art to objects of mass production--paintings, travel souvenirs, fashion designs, and cigar and cigarette advertisements. Accompanying the catalog are scholarly essays by leading art historians who explore the meaning of the paintings, as well as such topics as the "Orient" in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in movies, and in popular books. Edwards, Allen, and colleagues point out that the US emended the European conception of the "Orient" and presented it in more positive terms. American representations of the "Orient" frequently revealed more about prevailing American attitudes than the actual Islamic cultures they depicted. At the Columbian Exposition, the displays of the "Orient" emphasized American cultural superiority. The American Protestant search for its Near Eastern biblical roots encouraged not only painted views of the Holy Land, but pilgrimages to holy sites. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. Gutmann; Wayne State University