This week’s find is a take on the popular sujet d’art “Odalisque” by the quirky and visionary Danish artist Wilhelm Freddie. Wilhelm Freddie (1909-1995), who could be categorized as the Danish Dali, started his oeuvre with abstract works, then moved on to Surrealism and later in his career returned to abstractization, evident in this piece dated 1975.
Often controversial with his art, Wilhelm Freddie was arrested in 1937 after three of his works were confiscated by the police because they were considered pornographic at the time, resulting in a huge scandal, censorship and two prison sentences. Besides his original and self-taught artistic skills, Freddie addressed his viewer directly, particularly through his focus on erotic desire and human sexuality. In this painting, Freddie takes on a highly popular erotic subject in art history, the Odalisque, which could be considered both the ultimate celebration and objectification of the female body.
Coming from the Turkish word Odalık, Odalisque was the rank of the slave girls brought as war spoils or given to the Sultan as gifts. Although it was the lowest rank in the harem, it was possible for these girls to rise to the highest levels if they manage to impress the Sultan and bear children.
First uses of this subject in Western Art was in the 17th century, as a version of another popular female figure, Venus, executed by many famous artists such as Titian, Velazquez and Rubens. During the 19th century, odalisques became common fantasy figures in the Orientalism movement, featuring in many erotic paintings painted by Western artists, some of whom didn’t even to go the Ottoman Empire or Arabian Peninsula, let alone saw an actual harem.