Orientalist oil painting of Cairo street and drinks salesman by Voill
Swiss, Late 19th Century
Canvas: Height 65cm, width 47cm
Frame: Height 87cm, width 69cm, depth 7cm
Using deft strokes of oil on canvas, V. Voill immortalized the spirited streets of 19th Century Cairo in this orientalist piece. The scene vibrantly brings to life a nomadic drink vendor next to his mule, which carries a drinks stand on its back, epitomizing the rhythm of that time’s Egyptian street life.
The vendor, swathed in a vivid red robe with a patterned shirt beneath, becomes the painting’s anchor. His fez, perched with prominence, signifies a moment of waiting as a nearby customer takes a sip. Voill’s artistry shines here, magnifying this central interaction with rich detail and setting it against a softer, more nuanced backdrop.
The mule, rendered with great detail, holds its ground. From its fur to its muscular form, Voil’s craftsmanship is evident. The drinkware it bears showcases the artist’s unwavering attention.
Close to this central tableau, a senior figure, leaning on a cane, ambles past. His traditional Egyptian attire, replete with white head-wraps and muted robes, adds layers of depth to the scene. He and other secondary pedestrian characters which he can only discern but not actually see, with their subdued colours, not only enrich the backdrop but also amplify the brilliance of the main exchange.
Beyond the bustling street activity, a magnificent building rises, bathed in the morning sun’s soft golden hue. Above, a serene azure sky speckled with gentle clouds offers a peaceful contrast to the lively scene below.
Voill’s roots in Zurich, Switzerland, are discreetly chronicled in the signature and inscriptions nestled in the painting’s lower left, ‘V. Voill. Cairo. Zürich’, also making this painting a prime example of Swiss Orientalism. Framed with intricately carved wood, this piece is not just a depiction but a journey back in time. It’s a celebration of a lost era and the harmonious blend of naturalism with orientalism. When housed in an appropriate interior space, it serves as a timeless conduit to an age gone by and a charming decorative addition.