Georges Jules Victor Clairin (1843-1919) - French
An Ouled-Nail tribal dancer (Oriental dancer)
The French artist
Jules-George Clairin is one of the most successful practitioners of the
Orientalist genre. His early travels to Spain and Tangier suffused his
oeuvre with a great passion for costume and color, as can be seen in this
beautiful rendition of an Ouled-Nail tribal dancer. Opulently clad and
erotic, she spirals upwards, echoing the ornamental motif of flowers in the
tiles behind her. The elasticity of the layers of her costume suggests an
organic casing, while the enveloping gauzy fabrics intimate a whirling
The intoxicating theme of the Algerian dancer became one of Clairin's favorites, enabling him to produce dazzling compositions of great theatricality. As Wendy Buonaventura suggests in Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World, the Ouled-Nail term was utilized to describe dancers in general, irrespective of their particular tribe. The women of the Ouled-Nail lived in the Sahara between Biskra and Laghouat. Beginning with the French occupation in Algeria in the 1830's, Biskra became a great center for commerce, where travellers were often entertained by the dancers. One traveller recalled, "unlike the Egyptian dancers, who specialize in soft, undulating, serpentine movements of the abdominal muscles, the Ouled-Nail pride themselves in being able to make their belly pulsate violently and in syncopation to the music.
Part of the Western fascination with the dancers centered on their remarkable costumes. Layers of sumptuous garments are secured with extravagant clasps; large studded bracelets grace both arms topped by resplendent headdresses. Descriptions of the customs and costumes of the Ouled-Nail tribal dancers were written about extensively from the middle through the late 19th century. These dancers embodied the exotic, and for artists such as Clairin, they continued to fascinate him for the enirety of his career.
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