Tangier and Mogador

Tangier and Mogador
Tangier today. Photo: Mike McBey

Eugène Delacroix traveled to Algeria and Morocco in 1832, where he imagined an intense eroticism in the people, their clothing, the culture and the landscapes. The irony was that none of the women, Muslim or Jewish, would take their clothes off so Delacroix had to do it for them. The painting below, Odalisque is from years later, 1857, by which time the erotic/exotic of North Africa still persisted in his paintings.

He was particularly taken by Tangier and Mogador (now Essaouira). Curiously, the French navy bombarded Tangier and Mogador a decade after his visit (with English, Spanish and American assistance), generating a name for the courtesan and dancer Céleste Mogador - for why, go here.


Does visiting a place make your paintings more authentic? Is the image above more erotic and intimate than the one below, Odalisque with a Slave (1840) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who never left Europe, yet who painted nudes in Turkish baths, probably to compete with Delacroix?

Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Edward Said’s influential critique of Orientalism would judge them both as inherently linked to colonialism. After all, the French bombardment of Mogador flattened the town. It followed the conquest and occupation of Algeria that began in 1830. Delacroix's earlier paintings had celebrated the Greek fight for independence from the Ottomans and, in 1829, Victor Hugo's influential poems Les Orientales were published.

Since Said wrote, others have defended such artistic endeavors because they were sincerely motivated by curiosity about other cultures, and that is true at least in the case of Delacroix. His journals from the time are as interesting as his paintings - on the mix of cultures, music, dance, clothing and so on.

Further, should the Moroccan regime be defended when the young women of Mogador (Berber, Jewish) and young women of southern Europe were abducted by the corsairs and ended up in the harems of Fez and Marrakech? Such racy ideas encouraged composers to try their hand at it, including:

  • Rossini - The Italian Girl in Algiers - in 1813
  • Verdi - The Corsair - in 1848, inspired by a Byron poem
  • Berlioz - throughout the 1820s and 1830s but notably in Les Troyens in 1863

For other Orientalist paintings from this era, click here.

And below, an unusual Delacroix, which I have seen titled both as Fille publique au Maroc (which strikes me as a suitable title) and as Aspasia, after the Greek woman who was involved with Pericles (which doesn't).