Alphonse Étienne Dinet (1861-1929), also known as Nasreddine Dinet, was an oriental painter in Paris and one of the founders of Société Française des Peintres Orientales. He was so fascinated by North Africa and its culture that he converted to Islam and was fluent in Arabic. He also translated Arabic literature into French.
Few Orientalist artists were remembered as national icons. However, Dinet, a Paris-trained painter who lived and worked in Algeria for nearly 50 years, acquired a posthumous reputation as a "master".
The son of a wealthy lawyer, Dinet first completed his military service in Normandy, then attended the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Atelier de Garand, where he studied painting and anatomy before eventually attending the Julian Academy to complete the rest of his education. After his paintings received critical acclaim at the Salon in France, Dinet embarked on the first of many trips to Algeria with a group of entomologists in 1884. The following year he returned and completed the first two works inspired by the region, les Terrasses de Laghouat and l'Oued M'Sila après l'orage.
Delving into Orientalist themes and renowned in the desert cultures from which he drew inspiration, Dinet rejected early Maghreb representations based on exotic scenes from Greek and Roman antiquity. He was a stunning realist who focused more on local interactions, representations of women, and representations of the Muslim religion. Dinet's paintings lack the frank eroticism of his counterparts.
By using photography to capture the fleeting expressions of the models, Dinet's cinematic approach was far from the disjointed reservations of the fin-de-siecle aesthetic that imparted drama. With his conversion to Islam in 1908 and its formalization in 1913, Dinet used nudes in painting to express a right to represent the beauty of God's creation rather than the purely voyeuristic impressions of an imagined, private moment.
Death and Legacy
Many of his works before 1900 could be described as "anecdotal genre scenes". As his interest in Islam grew, he began to paint more religious subjects. He released a French translation of the Arabic epics of Antarah ibn Shaddad in 1898 as part of his ongoing effort to translate Arabic literature.
Dinet died in France in 1929, shortly after his pilgrimage to Mecca. The Nasreddine Dinet Museum attests to Dinet's unique place in the history of Oriental painters. Although later in his career, he was found by his peers to be behind the times, Dinet's genuine understanding of Saharan life allowed his work to encapsulate the history and people of Algeria with an authenticity that has rarely been surpassed. Art critic Camille Mauclair predicted Dinet's astonishing importance in the history of Oriental painters: "In the future, Dinet's paintings will become an unparalleled reference."