Ferdinand Roybet was a portrait and figure painter. Although he studied engraving at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, he devoted himself very early exclusively to painting. Studying the works of Rembrandt and Hals, he devoted a great deal of attention to the detail and costumes of his subjects. In 1864, he settled in Paris, where his lyrical, zestful canvases were quickly met with success. Critics lauded his strong colors and firm brushwork. Theodule Ribot and Antoine Vollon influenced Roybet, and in his simple handling of his subjects and the unidealized faces of his models he is similar to the Realist painters. Some of his works also testify to his admiration for Delacroix.
Roybet was a regular exhibitor in the Paris Salons, debuting in 1865 at the Salon des Champs-Elysées with two small watercolors. In the Salon of 1866, he exhibited "Unfoursous Henri III" which was purchased by Princess Mathilde. By the early 1890's Roybet had a solid career as a painter, winning such prestigious awards as the Médaille d'honneur at the Exposition Universelles d'Anvers in 1894 and was appointed Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in 1893.
The Favorite of the Harem was once in the collection of Adolph Edward Borie of Philadelphia, who was the Secretary of the Navy under President Ulysses S. Grant. In his The Art Treasures of America, Edward Strahan evocatively describes the central figure in this work as in a state of "ennui and brooding" as she "dreams on, beautiful and contemptuous, as if all her thoughts were due to some distant […] lover sighing for her in snowy mountains" (Strahan, p. 23). In this piece, a reclining odalisque, draped in jewels, relaxes in a lavish harem, flanked by servants who entertain her. The piece is related to Roybet's Tambourine Girl, shown at right, a complementary Orientalist piece that represents the artist's highest price achieved at auction.
Adolph Edward Borie, Philadelphia, by circa 1880
Private Collection, New York
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 1962 (sold on behalf of the above)
Edward Strahan, ed. The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, [1879-1882], facsimile edition, 1977, vol. II, p. 23 (illustrated)