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AN ARTIST'S PERILS IN THE EAST., Otago Witness, Volume 16, Issue 2351, 16 March 1899
AN ARTIST'S PERILS IN THE EAST.
% CHAT WITH* MR CARL HAAG.
One does not usually associate the life of the artist with that of the explorer, for the very good reason that the painter of pictures does most of his work in the solitude of his studio. In Mr Carl Haag, however, we have one notable exception. Mr Haag is almost as great an explorer as he is, greac as an arti&P. His beautiful canvasses depicting the Eastern deserts and life in the Holy Land are known throughout Europe j and" who can wonder at it, considering that in order to paint them he had to risk his neck in the desert and pass many months witu only Arabs as his companions. A few weeks ago Mr Haag, who, by the way, is Court Painter to the Duke of Ssxe-Ooburg-Uotha, kindly consented- to recount some ol his experiences as an artistexplorer, and ior this purpose I spent (writes a Casscll's Saturday Journal representative) an afternoon with him in his studio at Hampsfead. " You went to the East solely in your capacity of an artist, I- suppose, j>ir Haag'i" I observed.
"Yes; I started out expressly for that purpose. I made up my mind to steep mysell in the traditions and customs or tne people, and see everything that-there was to .see before putting a stroke to canvas. " Suppose we begin with my travels in Pi'lej-fciue. My aim, of course, was to lake sketches of the Holy Places, and yoti can have no idea of the trouble I had to go through before I was allowed to do &o. I had a firman from the Sultan of Turkey which admitted me to all the sacred spots, but as the Mahommedans have the greatest horror oi an unbeliever — that is, anyone who is of a different religion from themselves — going within the lemple area, the possession of the firman was one thing and transacting my business in gaiety another.
"The formalities that had to be gone through ware so tedious that 1 began to think i should never be^ able to do what I wanted. You see, 1 hud to be protected against outbursts ot fanaticism, and as I was under the wing of the Sultan, so to bpeak, the Pasha, who was responsible for my well-being, had to make all sorts of arrangements before he could satisfy himself tnat there was no danger ol my being moles-ted.
"His policy was original to^a degree. In the Temple area at Jerusalem there arc 40 black guards — don't link the words — who are so savage and so fanatical that tlie}would have Killed me to a certainty had not special measures been adopted. The Pasha accordingly preferred a false charge against the principal members ot this crew and threw tiffen into prison. Then in a couple of days' time he lev them out, coolly informing tliem thut after investigating ttie charge lie had lound them innocent, ile did this to render them timid, and I heard afterwards thtt this dodge was generally resorted to when it was desired to make the black men manageable. "At last," Mr Haag continued, " most of my obstacles were overcome, and tire day arrived when the Pasha sanctioned tfiy entrance into tne holy confines. 1 was accompanied by two officers and the head man of the mosque. My expeiicnces 1 shall never forget. Lntil 1 Jtet eyes on the laces of those 40 black guards I never undci&tood what lanaticism meant. One ot them toamed with rage dl the sight of me, while the murderous-looking visages of the whole gang, suggestive of tue worst type of cuttliroat it is possible to conceive, simply appalled me. •" Now, when these men were summoned before us a strange thing happened. One of the officer* spoke a few words to them and in an instant they di&nppuared."' My curiosity being aroused, I inquired what the officer had said and my dragoman replied as follows :
"* He explained that the mosque is in a dilapidated state and that the Sultan has oidered you to make some drawings with a vie<v to its restoration — that you do not like to do it, but that you dare not object, and that, every thing will have to be included in the "picture. He further advised them to keep away from you if they did "not- want their images to. come into your picture.' •' From that moment I was free "to paint as much as t pleased, and during the. whole time I .was at Jerusalem I never saw those awful blacks again.- 'They feared' me like the plague, because they have a superstition that as long as a "picture containing their portraits exists they will never have rest in their graves. '" It is a most rare event for a Christian to penetrate into the Temple aiea at Jerusalem," Mr Haag said presentlj'. " 1 sought the assistance of our Foreign Office, and was told thai my head Mould be off before I planted my easel in the place. Any Christian foolhardy enough to go in without protection would be stoned and probably killed, for his Mahommedan murderer would feel that by committing the deed he was assuring himself of a high place in Paradise.
" However, one can scarcely wonder at this fanaticism. In the mosque is the holy rock, which is supposed to have been used by David as an altar. Every prayer offered up in the immediate vicinity of this altar is said to be heard and granted, and the Mahommedans imagine that if a Christian had access to the rock he would pray foi v the destruction of the whole of Islam." •'Now about the desert, Mr Haag." " I have visited five deserts to paint pictures. My work was principally confined to the Bedouins, amongst wlujm 1 spent many, many months. I became quite a prophet in time, chiefly through the instrumentality of my medicine chest and my five-chambered revolver, the latter of which brought me no end of respect. The natives could not understand how I could fire more than one shot without reloading, and one Arab evinced such a yearning to become the owner of the weapon that he actually brought me a superb Arabian horse and offered it in exchange. I refused his offer, telling him that the pistol would be of no use to him, whereupon he sadly retraced his footsteps, but presently returned with pvm steeds which he begged me to accept. "Xqu. can iniacine what a sacrifice this
would have entailed' on his part when I tell you that the Arabs live with their animals and love them as ardently as they do their children. Of course I declined the bargain.
"'Everybody stood in the greatest awe of my revolver, and I recollectr one day firing up in • the air at the exact moment when a shooting star swept across the skies. The. Bedouins were thunderstruck and went about saying that I had bagged a star. I thought it advisable not to disabuse their mir.ds.- You can't be too much of a miracle worker out in the desert.
"My medicine chest was a wonderful source of protection to me. The Bedouins haw no doctors, consequently when one falls ill he lies down on his chest on the desert and, ciossing his arms, tucks his head in. There he remains, and if it
pleases God to take him he is ready ; if not. he lingers in a prostrate position until his health returns.
" I greatly enjoyed my sojourn in the desert, where I lived in an ordinary canvas tent and painted for hours every day. Dexert life is most agreeable. I rode nearly all the way from Cairo to Jerusalem on the back of a camel, and I never experienced anything more exhilarating. " The dragomen are wonderful creatures. They do every conceivable thing to make you" comfortable, and I am sure that finer meals than they provide could not be obtained even in Paris. I remember my dit;goman asking me one morning whether I would have my lunch cooked in the English, French, Italian, or Arabic style — and this in the middle of the desert, mind !
" It is customary in these regions to send ou your cajnping utensils and luggage an hour or so in advance, so that when you arrive at the hailing "place for the night you find your tent ready.. An amusing peculiarity of the Arab servant is that h? arranges everything precisely as he fGund it. For some time I could not make out why when my servant brought out my shppt-rs he invariably placed one with the sole upwards and the other with the sole ou the ground. At length I entreated my dragoman to solve the strange conundrum. His answer was : ' I suppose they >were in that position when you took them off on tho day we started !' *'
AN ARTIST'S PERILS IN THE EAST., Otago Witness, Volume 16, Issue 2351, 16 March 1899
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