Paul Jouve developed a passion for drawing animals long before his father, the portraitist and landscape painter Auguste Jouve, registered him at the School of Decorative Arts. The young man already preferred working from Nature to academic exercises, and assiduously frequented the Jardin des Plantes, the horse market, and the slaughter houses, as well as the Museum of Natural History, and the veterinarian school at Maisons Alfort. He was only sixteen years old when he presented his Lions of Menelik, who were kept at the Menagery of the Jardin des Plantes. His reputation grew rapidly: he gave a drawing of the frieze of wild animals for the Champs Elysées Gate to the Universal Exposition of 1900; exhibited at the gallery of Samuel Bing who financed his travels to Hamburg and Amsterdam where animals were at liberty; illustrated Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books.
In 1906, winner of the Algerian government’s scholarship, the artist was the first boarder, along with Leon Cauvy, at the Abd-el-Tif Villa in Algiers. Jouve met the Algerian painter Maxime Noiré there, and fell in love with his daughter, Annette Madeleine Sebald, whom he married on August 17th, 1908. Fascinated by the Magrab, the artist traveled across it alone, settling first in Bodhar, the French citadel located 170 kilometers south of Algiers, then in the vally of Bou Saada, the "Pearl of the South" which was more than two hundred kilometers away, and where Noiré had a studio. The immutable desert, the Berbers clothed in white with their faces hidden under their tagelmusts profoundly impressed him. He refined his style under the impact of this immensity, his line became more incisive in order to capture the essence of the forms and amplify the graphic presence of people and animals seen in a barely suggested environment.
Back in Paris in 1909, Jouve participated in the exhibition of the French Orientalist Painters’ Society with no less than forty-four compositions, including many animal drawings realized in the Algiers’ zoo, but did not exhibit any studies done in the desert. It was in the Salon of the Society of Decorative Artists in 1910 that he showed the Horseman of Bou Saada which was noticed by the critic Charles Saunier: "The silhouette is nervous and precise, with sure drawing where details, always well studied, are subordinated to the whole." Out of nineteen works by Jouve which the public could admire the same year in the Salon, five displayed the artist’s attachment to Saharian Algeria: Arab Prayer; Arab Horseman; Arab Scout; Camel at Bou Saada; and Camel Lying Down (nos 1505, 1506, 1520-1522). Furthermore, five drawings of the same theme figured in the 19th exhibition of the French Orientalist Painters, including two Arab Horsemen and three sheets depicting dromedaries, entitled Standing Camel, Camel, Camel at Bou Saada (nos 211-213).
It is possible that our drawing was one of the works presented in 1910, given its large format, its attentive realization, and the care given to the signature. As was his custom, the artist fled all anecdote, and instead evoked the animal and his driver almost outside of all context other than that summarized by a few schematic palm trees. The dromedary is seen head on in a peaceful hieratic pose which magnifies its powerful anatomy. He fixes the viewer with insistence and curiosity. He is both a real animal, seen and drawn by Jouve at Bou Saada, and an ideal animal, the archetype of all dromedaries of southern Algeria. In contraste, the Berber, his body dissimulated under a broad garment and shadowed face similar to a plurisecular mask, seems impenetrable and indissolubly linked to his mount. The rigorous technique, simplification of volumes and space, and the balanced hatched masses reinforce the sensation of presence, while still preserving the exoticism and mysteriousness of the beast and the camel man.
General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Félix MARCILHAC, Paul Jouve : peintre sculpteur animalier. 1878-1973, Paris, éditions de l’amateur, 2005.