CF STUDIES JOURNAL 06 - Page 173



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An exotic visitor to Paris: context and possible
identities for Claude-Marie Dubufe’s portrait
WI LL ELLIOTT
In March 2017, in Robert de Balkany’s Christie’s
estate sale, a striking portrait was offered for
auction (fig. 1).1 It was purchased by Colnaghi and
subsequently sold to the Musée du Louvre. The
portrait, whose sitter was simply described as a
“Turk” by the auction house, depicts a magnificentlooking olive-skinned man with an upturned
moustache, wearing a large white silk turban with
a red band and a red, sleeveless jacket, with a blue
under-jacket and yellow shirt. The author of the
painting is Claude-Marie Dubufe (1794-1860), a
now little-known Parisian society portraitist of
exceptional technical ability, who studied under
Jacques-Louis David. Placing the portrait within
its historical context, the intention of this essay is to
prepare the ground for further research, primarily
by exploring the possible identity of the sitter, as well
as brief ly addressing the surprisingly large number
of competent copies after the original.
Fig. 1 / Claude-Marie
Dubufe, Portrait of a Man
with Turban, 1826-1827,
oil on canvas, 56 x 46.5 cm,
Paris, Musée du Louvre.
Two pieces of evidence allow the portrait to be dated
with confidence to late 1826 or early 1827: a copy
sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2017 (fig. 2),2 inscribed
“aout / 1827” at the lower left, and a lithograph after
the original which was published in Paris in March
1827 (fig. 3).3 However, the copy and the lithograph
give conf licting information as to the identity of the
sitter. The lithograph simply labels the sitter as a
“Jeune Grec”, whereas the painted copy, according
to the auction note, “has long been identified as
Hassan El Berberi, who was the primary keeper
of the famous giraffe sent to King Charles X of
France”.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
It is necessary to begin with some historical context for
both cases, starting with the captivating story of Hassan
El Berberi. In 1826 Mehmet Ali, Ottoman Pasha of
Egypt (fig. 4), dispatched to France a female giraffe,
subsequently known to history as Zarafa.4 The giraffe,
sourced from recently conquered Sudan, was intended
as a diplomatic gift, and a spectacular one at that, for
Charles X, who was at the time seeking zoological
specimens for France.5 Mehmet Ali needed French
political goodwill, especially with regard to the Ottoman
suppression of the Greek Revolution – an independence
movement which ultimately received vigorous support
in France – and attempting to carve out a quasiautonomous state of his own in North Africa.6
Setting out by ship from the port of Alexandria,
Zarafa crossed the Mediterranean with her head
poking through a hole cut into the deck of the ship,
and arrived at Marseille on 31 October with her two
attendants: Atir and her chief caretaker Hassan El
Berberi. After overwintering in the south, Zarafa
set off on the 900 km trek to Paris, accompanied
by several dairy cows to provide her with a daily
twenty-four gallons of milk. Being the first giraffe
seen in France, Zarafa and her entourage caused
quite a stir in the towns and settlements through
which they passed, especially since Zarafa had been
fitted out with shoes and a two-part yellow coat by
the naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hillaire, whose
correspondence provides the most complete history
of the journey. She was finally presented to Charles
X on 8 July 1827 at the Château de Saint-Cloud,

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