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John Lyman

Arab Celebration, the Handkerchief Dance


John Lyman
Biddeford, Maine, 1886 – Kingsley, Barbados, 1967


Arab Celebration, the Handkerchief Dance


About 1921-1923


Oil on canvas


99 x 80 cm


Gift of Dr. Ronnie Aronson, inv. 2019.177


Quebec and Canadian Art

Influenced by modernist artists Henri Matisse and James Wilson Morrice, John Lyman followed in their footsteps when he travelled to Tunisia in 1919. Stylistically, modern artists abandoned the naturalism of Orientalism in favour of emphasizing colour, texture and form, but the desire to imagine an “exoticized” East persisted. Lyman’s choice of subject matter is a continuation of an Orientalist archetype derived from European fantasies of the harem, which featured an elaborately, yet scantily dressed female dancer as its central subject. Although claiming later in his career that subject matter was less important than the formal qualities of artistic expression, Lyman’s interest in the central female figure is indicated by several studies dedicated to the model. It is possible that Lyman made these drawings in his studio upon returning from North Africa, where locals often resisted Orientalist practices by refusing to pose for visiting European painters.

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