Artist: Roger Fenton (British, 1819–1869)
Medium: Salted paper print from glass negative
Dimensions: 28.5 x 39 cm (11 1/4 x 15 3/8 in.)
Credit Line: The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Anonymous, Joyce and Robert Menschel, Jennifer and Joseph Duke, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gifts, 1997
Accession Number: 1997.382.34
In the summer of 1858, in his London studio, Fenton made a series of orientalist costume pieces modeled on the painted harem scenes and odalisques of Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres that he had seen in Paris, and motivated by his desire to elevate the status of photography by tackling themes more frequently treated in painting.
Reclining Odalisque is among the quietest pictures in the series. Unlike his other orientalist scenes, this one has no cowering slaves or leering sultans, no music or dancing, few stage props, no narrative tale. The odalisque is simply there, a vision floating in darkness-the exquisite embodiment of Victorian fascination with the exotic and the erotic. She lies languorously on dark pillows set on layers of carpet; she is barefoot but crowned with golden coins; she wears loose-fitting patterned harem pants and a blouse unbuttoned to reveal a hint of bare breast below gossamer; she caresses an upturned goblet drum, a phallic darabukke inlaid with mother-of-pearl; and she looks at us from the shadows, subtly provocative in a way calculated to stir the Western male imagination.