Most of Leprince’s sitters seem to have been more or less like the painter himself—elegant Parisians of the middle class. The identity of the model depicted here and the circumstances that brought him into the artist’s studio are unknown, but beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, French artists from Girodet to Gericault had relished the opportunity to paint figures in Middle Eastern dress. Leprince’s interest in this pensive man may have stemmed from the war of independence being waged by the Greeks against the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s.
Most of Leprince’s sitters seem to have been more or less like the painter himself—elegant Parisians of the middle class. The identity of the model depicted here and the circumstances that brought him to the artist’s studio remain unknown, but ever since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, French artists from Girodet to Gericault had relished the opportunity to paint figures in middle eastern dress. Leprince’s interest in this pensive—one might say melancholic—man may have stemmed from the war of independence being waged by the Greeks against the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s. About the same time this painting was made, Eugène Delacroix was working furiously to complete a major canvas on this theme, Massacre at Scio (Louvre), for the Salon of 1824; and two years later, in 1826, Leprince would lend canvases to both iterations of the exhibition "Ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit des Grecs" held at Galerie Lebrun, Paris.
Leprince tended to feature studio props in his independent portraits and was working on an animated group portrait of artists and others in his atelier at the time he died, in 1826 (The Artist’s Studio, Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison). But why he chose to situate this particular figure there, with the emblems of his own work so prominently on display and seemingly integrated into the model’s persona, is another question that invites speculation. Not precisely a portrait in the conventional sense, it is also not yet a historical genre picture like the one depicting Michelangelo in his studio that Delacroix would paint in 1849–50 (Musée Fabre, Montpellier). Leprince treated diverse subjects with such restiveness during his all-too-brief career that the promise seen in works such as this one is difficult to define.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Signed (on the portfolio): A X / Leprince
the artist, Paris (until d. 1826; his atelier sale, Hôtel de Bullion, 3 rue J. J. Rousseau, Paris, March 12, 1827, no. 16, as “Figure de Turc; modèle dans un atelier”); [Moyon, Paris, until 1838; his sale, Hôtel de Ventes, Paris, January 16–20, 1838, no. 529, as “Etude de turc dans un atelier (214),” unsold; second Moyon sale, February 20–23, 1838, no. 529, apparently bought in and subsequently reverted to the artist's family]; presumably the artist's family, Paris, by descent (until 1980; sale, Loudmer & Poulain, Paris, March 30, 1980, no. 87, as "Personnage assis, vêtu à l'oriental," for Fr 17,000, to Hazlitt); [Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, from 1980; sold to Goldyne]; Joseph Goldyne, San Francisco, Calif. (until 1986; sold February 24 to Whitney); Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1986)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 64).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 46, fig. 64 (color).
Stenciled information on the stretcher (x leprince 214) makes it possible to identify this painting in the 1838 sale of the Paris dealer Moyon (see Provenance).