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Orientalism through Realism

The Orientalist style is characterised by depicting Eastern architectural motifs, furniture, decorative arts, and textiles in great detail. Linda Nochlin argues that “the picturesque style and realism employed throughout Oriental art were tools to legitimize the western concept of Orientalism and the negative stereotypes associated with it.” In Thomas Allom’s engravings, the extravagant life of the Manchus was depicted in minutest details. Verisimilitude in art has a function in promoting the negative stereotypes of Eastern culture, showing corruption and social stratification of Chinese society and signifying the ruling class as being lazy. The extravagant lifestyle of the Manchus is regarded by Westerners as decadent and dissolute. The beautiful domestic interiors distracted viewers from the violence and conflict China was enduring from the First Opium War. Orientalist artists wanted viewers to feel as if the images were photorealistic depictions by using the “realistic” style.

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