Jules Robert Auguste (1789-1859)
Jules Robert Auguste was born into a family of rich goldsmiths, yet rather than go into the family business he followed his own unique path.
At first he though he thought his vocation was in the domain of sculpture and indeed it could have been. He was very talented in this art form and in 1810 at the age of just twenty one he won the ‘Grand Prix de Rome’. Just as he was achieving success in this field he abandoned it to dedicate his artistic pursuits to watercolors and pastels and more importantly travel to far off fields. His travels were to engrain in him a passion and love of the Orient that was to last his whole life.
Although little has been written about him, he was in fact one of the pioneers of Orientalism and was the first artist to travel to the region. His travels were extensive and included Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and countries of the Middle East. His family’s wealth enabled him to finance these travels and also to build up an extraordinary collection of clothes, carpets, trinkets and other objects to be used as props in paintings. He always visited Bazaars on his travels and picked up artifacts of every description.
Paris in the mid nineteenth century had a fascination in artistic circles, for Middle East and Arab life, as well as Islamic art. By the mid nineteenth century Parisians became used to seeing reconstructions of Mosques, Arab Villages and Bazaars in the annual exhibitions in the city.
When he came to having his own studio he filled it with so many objects from his travels to the Orient that it was said to resemble a Bazaar.
It is not only his studio which housed his collections; his own home also contained magnificent collections of ceramics, weapons, glassware and costumes. He held many memorable gatherings there with his unique collections providing the background.
He was a generous figure and rather than hoard his collections he was happy to lend them to any artists or students who needed his costumes or any trinkets he had gathered. The artists that used them the most were those that painted in the Romantic style.
He was a very good friend of the great Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix and provided him with the props and costumes for his wonderful painting, ‘The Plague Victims of Jaffa.’ He was also friends with the painter Theodore Gericault who has been described as the leader of the Romantic school and who produced such great work of arts such as the ‘Raft of Medusa’ which showed the dying survivors of a ship wreck in Morocco and caused a huge political scandal at the time.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Orleans in France has a sizeable collection of his paintings. At the end of the day it is probably true to say that his legacy to the art world was not in terms of great paintings but in his ardent desire to instill in other artists a love of the Orient and in this he certainly was successful.