Ludwig Deutsch (Austrian, 1855–1935)
Learning the Qur’an
Oil on panel, 10 3/4 x 8 in.

From the 1880s onwards, Deutsch devoted most of his canvases to depicting scenes of daily life in Cairo, painting in minute detail vignettes of merchants, scholars, and palace guards. This genre encompassed religious subjects as well, including scenes of men at prayer, people visiting mosques, and festivals, such as The Procession of the Mahmal Through the Streets of Cairo (1909, Private Collection). Deutsch’s Learning the Qu’ran turns the viewer’s attention to religious study and contemplation, showing a group of men reading and listening attentively to a speaker. By 1909 Deutsch had already begun using the more spontaneous and looser style we see in this work, indicative of the influence of Impressionism, while remaining faithful to ethnographic accuracy. Deutsch precisely renders the latticework of the windows and screens, but uses muted colors, a striking contrast to some of his earlier works that depicted texture, surface decoration, and intricately layered architectural surroundings.