L. Bernelt’s painting depicting an Arab warrior on horseback is a prime example of why consulting a trained appraiser is so important in establishing the value of an art object. L. Bernelt is not a household name and you will learn very little about him by doing a standard internet search on his work. What is known is that he worked in continental Europe during the 19th century. However, Bernelt’s weak Google turnout does not mean that his painting of an Arab warrior is of little value. What the art appraiser’s eye can see is the quality and history behind this work and these are the elements that truly give art works their value.
When looking at this piece, the trained eye can determine the factors that were influencing the artist. In this piece two very strong influences can be seen that correspond to the time and place in which Bernelt would have been working, Jacques-Louis David (French b. 1748 – d. 1825) and Eugene Delacroix (French b. 1798 – d. 1863). Both men’s works would have been available to Bernelt to see, and in comparing their work to Bernelt’s you can see how they have influenced him.
In David’s 1801 painting Bonaparte Crossing the Saint Bernard Pass, see above, we see the backward slant of the horse and the opposing turn of the head, which Bernelt also uses in his Arab Warrior. Furthermore, both paintings juxtapose these sharp angles with the soft movement of the fabrics. In these compositional elements we can see David’s influence on Bernelt.
However, the brushwork of the painting, the color choices, and subject matter show how Bernelt was strongly influenced by Delacroix. Delacroix is known for his orientalist subject matter as exemplified in his painting from 1827 Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha, shown above. In Delacroix’s piece we can see his quick and feathery brushwork, which Bernelt also uses to a lesser extent. Furthermore, we can clearly see that Bernelt was influenced by Delacroix’s use of muted colors with flashes of jewel tones, which brings the viewers’ attention to certain areas like the green of the flag and the red of the saddle in Bernelt’s piece and the red of the turbans and the brilliant white of the clothing in Delacroix’s work.
All of these elements demonstrate how Bernelt’s work fits into his time period and illustrates what artists he would have been influenced by. But, there are also some wonderful stand alone compositional elements to his depiction of an Arab warrior. For example, the difficulty of creating movement in static objects like paintings is often underestimated by the everyday viewer. Granted, Bernelt’s painting does not exhibit movement as masterfully as David or Delacroix, but the backward tip of the horse matched by the backward angle of the flag and the sideways glance of the warrior all make the viewer feel as if the horse and its rider are on the verge of moving either forward or backward. Furthermore, Bernelt does an excellent job of guiding the viewer’s eye through the painting. The viewer is initially drawn to the central warrior because of the strong highlight colors and his tall and slanted flag pole. The slant of the flag matches the angle of two of the horses legs so that are eye is moving towards the base of the painting. The angle of the flag pole is then juxtaposed with the angles of the weapons being held by the warriors to the left of the central figure, drawing our eye in that direction. Finally, the eye is briefly drawn to the right of the central figure by the bright white horse that is set against the other darker horses in the painting. Therefore, while the central warrior is most important, Bernelt is still able to guide his viewer throughout the painting creating a unified composition.
All of the elements that have been discussed add to the quality of L. Bernelt’s piece and can be detected by the trained eye. This demonstrates that although Bernelt is not an easily searchable artist an appraiser would still be able to indicate the value of such an object based on the quality of the piece.