Eugène Alexis Girardet (French, 18531907)
Arab Coffee House in El Kantara, ca. 1886
Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 39 1/2 in.

Girardet’s first encounter with the Orient was in 1874, when he visited Morocco via Spain. He made subsequent trips to North Africa, mainly to Algeria where he experienced the native customs and life first hand. He was particularly interested in depicting the nomadic tribes such as this anecdotal scene of Bedouins playing chess in a warmly lit café, with sunlight peeping through the cracks of the closed window. Girardet made another painting of the waiter preparing coffee in the background titled Café Arabe (1886, Musée d’Orsay), and a note on the back reveals the café was located in El Kantara, Algeria, where the artist often made his home. Girardet returned to the subject of café scenes on several occasions as in Arab Coffee-House in Biskra (Basel Kunstmuseum), which attests to his enduring interest in the region. Léonce Bénédite, the curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, noted this same quality in 1908, when he wrote that Girardet’s paintings “are far from the tourist souvenirs or ethnographic descriptions,” found commonly in Orientalist art.