THE MUSLIM WORLD:
Part 1: Including The Searight Collection of Drawings and Prints and Material from The Drawings, Prints
and Drawings Department and The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The Searight Collection is the world’s greatest collection of western views of the Near East and North Africa. It is a unique pictorial record of the cultural interaction between the Occident and the Orient before the widespread use of photography.
It portrays scenes and events from, and people living in, the Islamic world as seen by over seven hundred artists, writers, explorers, traders, tourists, naval and military personnel, and political cartoonists. The images they produced reflect almost every aspect of European activity in the Orient.
The area covered extends from Morocco to Afghanistan. Turkey, Egypt and the Levant were the lands most frequented by western travellers, but more remote regions such as the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf are also represented.
The Collection contains about two thousand watercolours and drawings, several thousand prints, and several hundred illustrated travel books. These range in date from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, with the emphasis on the period between 1770 and 1920.
Most of the artists represented are British and French. There are also works by German, Italian, Swiss, Scandinavian, Maltese, Russian and other European artists, as well as some Americans. They include David Roberts, John Frederick Lewis, Edward Lear, David Wilkie, William Muller, Owen Jones, Carl Haag, Prosper Marilhat, Alexandre Decamps, Adrien Dauzats, Carl Werner, Luigi Mayer and Amadeo Preziosi. In addition, a special characteristic of the Collection is its large number of lesser-known and amateur artists, whose work is also of significant historical and topographical interest.
The Collection was formed by Rodney Searight, a former director of Shell International Petroleum Company, who worked in Egypt and elsewhere in the region for many years. An inspired connoisseur and gifted amateur artist, he began collecting in the early 1960s when there was little interest in Orientalism, and his enthusiasm and researches on the subject have helped to focus attention on this now popular field of study.
The Collection was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1985, with the aid of Shell International, the National Art-Collections Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Gianni Versace, and the Friends of the V & A. It is now housed in the Department of Designs, Prints and Drawings at the Museum, where it has been fully catalogued. This Catalogue, which incorporates the researches of Rodney Searight, has been compiled by Jenny Elkan, Briony Llewellyn and Tanya Szrajber, under the direction of Charles Newton. Containing material collated from a variety of sources, published and unpublished, the Catalogue is intended to act as a reference for anyone interested in the subject, and as a base for further research. In recent years the Collection has become increasingly widely known through exhibitions and accompanying publications. It is hoped that the present catalogue will further this process of familiarisation, and made a significant contribution to the study of European connections with the Near East.