Born in Mainz, Germany on 8th January 1843, Nathaniel Sichel gained great
repute as a figurative artist, portraitist, historical painter and lithographer.
He is best known and won the widest popularity for his arresting depictions of
female beauties, who as here were often dressed in Oriental costume. Yet others
show them in Far Eastern, Classical or even contemporary attire. Sichel was a
masterful painter of the female figure who understood and ably described their
beauty through a lightness of brush, sensuous colouring, underlined by strong
draughtsmanship. Here we see one of his most skilled images of a young girl in
deep contemplation, whose sultry looks and dark liquid eyes are combined with
youthful innocence. The painting also demonstrates his ability in describing a
variety of textures from her luxuriant hair and heavily brocaded dress against
her white chemise and peach-like skin that all contrast with the rough stone
wall on which she leans.
Sichel’s art was based on a strong academic training, having studied at
the Munich Academy from 1859 to 1862 under the esteemed professor Julius
Friedrich Anton Schrader (1815-1900), who gained repute for his historical and
genre scenes as well as his portraits. Sichel then furthered his training at the
Paris Academy and in 1864 won the coveted Prix de Rome for a painting of 1863
portraying Joseph explaining Pharaoh’s Dreams – a subject that combined an
historical and religious theme but above all established his primacy as an
Orientalist. While in Rome Sichel painted a number of historical scenes, such as
Scene from the Life of Mary Stuart also known as Farewell of Maria Stuart of
Melvil (1866, Galerie Pallenberg, Mannheim) and Don Carlos taken Prisoner by
Philip II. It is also believed that as part of his travelling scholarship Sichel
visited the ancient Egyptian tombs near to the Temple of Thebes.
When the artist returned to his native Rhine provinces, he achieved
success as a portrait painter, and also continued to expand his oeuvre while
working in Paris. Early on he established great repute for his portraiture when
his likeness of the Countess of Ernaudes was exhibited at the Paris Salon in
1865. Other portraits include one of Arthur Lionel Payne (Peczenik), dated 1873.
Eventually Sichel made his lifelong studio in Berlin and produced visions of
Orientalist beauties for which he is best known. An article concerning
Contemporary German Art, Royal Academy of Arts Berlin Centenary Festival 1886,
(published by George Bell & Sons, London, 1888) notes that Sichel was
awarded the Berlin Prize for a painting called An Egyptian Almeh, depicting a
woman accompanied by a sphinx-adorned harp as she sings to the Pharaoh, which
was described as “one of a long series of female figures all equally charming,
turned out with wonderful skill”.
The artist’s work is sometimes compared with that of Max Nonnenbruch
(1857-1922), who like him depicted sensuous female beauties, yet Sichel exceeded
the latter’s fame and popularity. Central to his art was the female ideal, who
appears in a variety of forms – sometimes as a Madonna and Child, painted in a
similar style to William A. Bouguereau (1825-1905); on other occasions such as
Yum-Yum (Galerie Brunswick, Cologne) the model wears a Japanese robe and holds a
fan behind her head. Others include The Egyptian Slave whose sensuality is
echoed in Fatima portraying the queen of the harem dressed in satin and wearing
a headdress of golden coins and jewels as well as his Odalisque or Turandot, who
both wear similar headdresses. In contrast Summer shows a beautiful young woman
wearing classical robes set against a floral backdrop while Messenger of Love,
portrays a young lady in contemporary dress, clutching a white dove.
Nathaniel Sichel died in Berlin on 12th April 1907. Such was his repute
that his paintings were sometimes reproduced as porcelain tiles and plates,
notably by K.P.M. (the Royal Berlin Porcelain Manufactory). Furthermore as one
of the most popular artists of his day, Sichel’s works are eagerly sort after
and can be found in a number of public collections, which in addition to those
already cited include those at Cologne: (Oriental Woman), Mainz (Sakountala),
Halle (Woman Beggar at the Pont des Arts, 1896), Rostock (Salomé) and Darmstadt
Gallery (Philip the Generous at his Wife’s Tomb, 1864).