Jean-Léon Gérôme, Riders Crossing the Desert (1870). Highlights from the Najd Collection, Sotheby’s, London, 22 October. Estimate: £3m-£5m
The French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme was fascinated by Egypt and the Middle East, and the paintings he produced of the region marry a precise academic realism with a hefty dose of Orientalist fantasy. Riders Crossing the Desert comes from an anonymous Middle Eastern collector who amassed one of the world’s largest private Orientalist collections during the 1980s, when European and US buyers dominated the field—today, many come from the Middle East, encouraged in part by institutions in the region which are forming Orientalist collections. Conversely, Gérôme has fallen somewhat out of fashion with Western collectors, and Artnet’s price database shows that prices for his work—which reached a peak at Sotheby's London with the sale of Femme Circassienne Voilée (veiled circassian beauty, 1876) in 2008 at just over £2m with fees—have failed to make a post-recession comeback. This, then, looks a big price for the riders but, as Claude Piening, Sotheby’s head of 19th century European paintings, says, the depiction of "stoic travellers" was "chosen to hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [on loan] for almost a decade, from 2007 to 2016."