The Lure of the East

by Nick

I went to Tate Britain’s exhibition about British orientalist painting at the end of last week. The Lure of the East has been criticised by some reviewers for being excessively “politically correct” in castigating British painters’ interpretation of the Middle East. This isn’t a proper review as such, simply some notes on a painting that particularly grabbed me. But personally I thought the exhibition steered a remarkably even course between the imaginative sympathy of many of the painters and the occasionally oppressive or lurid fantasies projected onto their subject matter by others. It’s on until 31 August so do drop in if you get the chance.

One painting that particularly stood out was of Robert and Teresia Shirley (artist unknown, c. 1627). Robert was an English diplomat and traveller who spent time in Persia in the late sixteenth century and who while there married Teresia Khan, a Circassian aristocrat. Above is Robert in richly embroidered Persian dress, with Teresia holding a pistol and a pocket watch. These symbolise the new technology being introduced to Persia at the time – one of Robert’s legacies was the training of the Persian army in English military tactics, in return for 5,000 horses.