Dauzats visited Giza between May 11 and early June, 1830. This striking view of the twenty-sixth century B.C. Great Pyramid, or Pyramid of Cheops, is depicted from a position near a corner of its base. The dramatic perspective reflects Dauzats’s early training as a theatrical painter. The monument fills nearly the entire composition and is truncated at the sides, emphasizing its powerful form and exceptional height. Figures in local dress scramble over the pyramid, further enhancing its scale. The time of day must be morning, as only the left face is illuminated by direct sunlight, while the moon remains faintly visible behind a lightly vaporous sky. Two raptors soar nearby.
Given its sketchlike quality it is tempting to suppose that Dauzats painted the picture before the motif, but he is more likely to have done so after his return to France in the fall of 1830, perhaps at the same time that he was preparing for his debut at the Salon of 1831. There he showed two related subjects, a painting, Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo
(Assemblée Nationale, Paris), and a drawing, Turkish Café in Alexandria
(whereabouts unknown). The present work is signed with the artist’s initials in a form that he used for a short period about 1830 (see Plessier 1990), yet its early history remains untraced, and it was unknown to scholars until it surfaced on the Paris art market in 1983.
Dauzats had traveled to Egypt as part of the entourage of arts impresario baron Isidore Taylor (1789–1879), who led a diplomatic mission to negotiate with Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali (1769–1849), for the acquisition of the obelisks that then stood as a pair at the entrance to the Temple of Luxor; one of them would be installed at the center of the Place de la Concorde in Paris in October 1836. (For a view of the gate to the Temple of Luxor with its sole remaining obelisk painted in the same month, see the oil sketch by Antoine-Xavier-Gabriel de Gazeau, comte de La Bouëre, 2003.42.37
). Dauzats and contemporaries who undertook similar journeys about the same time, including Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (Turkey, 1828), Prosper Marilhat (Egypt, 1831–32), and Eugène Delacroix (Morocco and Algeria, 1832), are generally credited with elevating Orientalist subjects as a popular genre, one that served as a filter through which Europeans visualized and indeed conceptualized the Muslim world for much of the nineteenth century.
Dauzats later published an account of his travels in Egypt that includes a description of his ascent of the Great Pyramid with another traveling companion, the painter Étienne-François-Auguste Mayer (1805–1890): "The largest of the pyramids, the preferred one to climb, rests on a base six hundred ninety-nine feet long [sic], and appears, from below, slightly indented at the summit. Formed of stacked stones that project and recede, it looks like a gigantic staircase, each step of which is four feet high and ten inches wide. At first the ascent seemed to us, if not impossible, then at least moderately awkward to accomplish; but [our guide] Mohammed attacked it at an angle, stepping over the first block, grabbing the second, and, beckoning us to follow him, continued on his way as if inviting us to do the simplest thing. It was not much fun to climb four hundred twenty-one feet [sic] under such strong sun, which was also reflected by the stone that we climbed like lizards, and we were not in the least bit ashamed to follow well behind. [. . .] Finally, after twenty minutes of hard labor, and after having sufficiently bent back our fingrnails and skinned our knees, we reached the summit; but almost as soon as we did, we had to think about getting back down, lest the sun of Egypt melt away what little fat was left on our bones. Yet I did have time to take in the entire landscape at my leisure. [. . .] We walked around the pyramid to seek some shade. Unfortunately the sun was at its zenith, so it shone on the four sides of the tomb of Cheops. We walked all the way around it without finding a place where one could remain for more than five minutes without going crazy." (Dauzats, with Alexandre Dumas, Impressions de Voyage: Quinze jours au Sinaï
, Paris, 1839 [Brussels ed., 1839, pp. 146–47]; and see Dauzats’s 1846 letter on the subject of this text in Marionneau, "Dauzats. [1846.] Les Pyramides et le Sphinx de Gizeh," Nouvelles archives de l’art français
, 3e sér., vol. 4, 1888, pp. 220–23).
Asher Ethan Miller 2015