Karl Wilhelm Gentz, German, 1822-1890
The Snake Charmer, 1872,
Oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 36 1/2 in.
Signed and dated lower right: W. Gentz. 1872
1995.54

A student of Charles Gleyre and Thomas Couture, Gentz exhibited regularly at the Berlin exhibitions starting in 1856, and his many paintings of the Arab world held the attention and admiration of the Berlin public through the 1880s. His familiarity with Egypt undoubtedly helped him compose The Snake Charmer, a common Orientalist theme famously treated by Jean-Léon-Gérôme. An audience of transfixed Egyptian spectators — whose lower-left vantage point we share – surrounds the performers of this dangerous act in front of the dramatic ruins of the temple of Madinet Habu in Thebes. This painting, which pointedly contrasts a contemporary idle pleasure with the remains of a noble and ancient culture, was reproduced in Egypt: Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque published in 1878 by the Egyptologist George Ebers.