Aswan: Study for "Donkey Driver in Cairo", 1856
black chalk on wove paper
26.1 x 16.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 18877)
Of an almost photographic clarity, this study of a young Arab was once part of an album containing a number of drawings that evoke Jean-Léon Gérôme's first voyage to Egypt, in 1856-57. While some of these sheets illustrate landscapes, most testify to the young artist's marked interest in the inhabitants of the places he visited. Nearly all of the portraits bear annotations - sometimes in French and Arabic - about the identity and origin of the subject.
A fine, precise line emphasizes the outlines and the folds of fabric, while the shadows are fashioned from short, regular strokes of hatching. Some of the drawings were preparatory studies for paintings. This portrait annotated "Assouan", for example, served as the basis for "Donkey Driver in Cairo" (1860), which has been lost.