Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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Orchestre sous-marine (Underwater Orchestra)
  • Jellal Ben Abdallah
    1921–2017
    born: Tunis, Tunisia ; died: Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia ; active: Tunisia, France, and Sweden
  • Orchestre sous-marine (Underwater Orchestra), 1969
  • Where object was made: Tunisia
  • watercolor, acrylic, charcoal on paper
  • Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 58 x 49 cm
    Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 22 13/16 x 19 5/16 in
    Mat Dimensions: 36 x 30 in
  • Museum purchase: R. Charles and Mary Margaret Clevenger Art Acquisition Fund
  • On view: Marshall Balcony, 404, S1
  • 2014.0061
Label Text
Literature
Exhibitions

Exhibition Label:
"Race, Gender, and the "Decorative" in 20th-Century African Art: Reimagining Boundaries", 11-Nov-2017
Jellal Ben Abdallah, a member of the artist group the École de Tunis (Tunis School), is renowned for miniature painting, watercolors, and monumental design. He portrayed female musicians, octopi, and starfish in Orchestre sous-marine, a study for a ceramic tile mural in the Hôtel les Palmiers, a modernist hotel designed by Olivier-Clément Cacoub. Similarly, the small sketch depicts five musicians, fish, and sea urchins on the seafloor. Ben Abdallah’s signature, written in Arabic, forms the oud (lute) strings. These works are rare examples of Arab surrealism in a U.S. museum collection. The untitled still-life represents the artist’s lifelong practice of painting miniatures and Arab instruments. Ben Abdallah, like other members of the École de Tunis, engaged with historical art forms found in Arab and Islamic lands as part of his modernist practice. His miniatures, particularly desired by Tunisian collectors, have been displayed as paintings, inserted into precious jewelry, and circulated as postage stamp designs. Ben Abdallah painted until the end of his long life; he passed away at the age of 96 on November 9, 2017.

Mobile App Exhibition Label:
"Race, Gender, and the "Decorative" in 20th-Century African Art: Reimagining Boundaries", 11-Nov-2017
Jellal Ben Abdallah, a member of the artist group the École de Tunis (Tunis School), is renowned for miniature painting, watercolors, and monumental design. He portrayed female musicians, octopi, and starfish in Orchestre sous-marine, a study for a ceramic tile mural in the Hôtel les Palmiers, a modernist hotel designed by Olivier-Clément Cacoub. Similarly, the small sketch depicts five musicians, fish, and sea urchins on the seafloor. Ben Abdallah’s signature, written in Arabic, forms the oud (lute) strings. These works are rare examples of Arab surrealism in a U.S. museum collection. The untitled still-life represents the artist’s lifelong practice of painting miniatures and Arab instruments. Ben Abdallah, like other members of the École de Tunis, engaged with historical art forms found in Arab and Islamic lands as part of his modernist practice. His miniatures, particularly desired by Tunisian collectors, have been displayed as paintings, inserted into precious jewelry, and circulated as postage stamp designs. Ben Abdallah painted until the end of his long life; he passed away at the age of 96 on November 9, 2017.

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Exhibition Label:
“Holding Pattern: New Works at the Spencer Museum,” Sep-2014, Susan Earle and Cassandra Mesick
The only member of the original École de Tunis alive today, Jellal Ben Abdallah is an active Tunisian artist, illustrator, interior designer, and muralist. Regardless of medium, he draws from diverse artistic movements and styles, though thematically he favors landscapes, still lifes, and scenes of domestic, often feminine, activities. The style and imagery of Orchestre sous-marine is an invaluable example of 20th-century Arab surrealism that highlights several elements common in Ben Abdallah’s later work, including cool color palettes, female subjects, painstaking attention to costume, and the depiction of musical performance.
This painting is one of four preparatory studies Ben Abdallah created to plan for his otherworldly tile-work mural installed at the Hotel les Palmiers, an upscale hotel in Monastir, Tunisia. Built by famed architect Olivier Cacoub, Hotel les Palmiers is perched on the coastline next to former Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba’s presidential palace (also designed by Cacoub). After a period of relative neglect, Hotel les Palmiers is currently experiencing a thoughtful and ambitious renovation that will preserve and highlight Ben Abdallah’s original mural, which depicts an expanded underwater scene, complete with musicians awash in the soothing colors of the nearby sea.