Joseph Pierre Olivier Coomans was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1816 and was known as one of Belgium's most celebrated 19th century painters of historic subjects, genre scenes and landscapes, as well as a noted illustrator.
He attended the Academies of Ghent and Antwerp, where he studied painting with three noted Belgium painters of historic genre: Nicaise De Keyser (1813 - 1887), Gustave Wappers (1803 - 1874), and Pieter Van Hanselaere (1786 - 1862) of Ghent. On completion of his studies, Coomans embarked on a working tour of the Near East and North Africa, first accompanying the French army to Algeria in 1843-1845, and then venturing into Morocco and Arabia.
Coomans also traveled to Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Crimea, where he mainly executed historical subjects. Exposure to different cultures and styles allowed Coomans to fully exploit an orientalist flavour in his art, producing highly polished and finished works that evoke both the beauty and the oppulent decandence of the West's perception of the Orient.
He lived in Naples from 1856 through 1860, and became very interested in the excavation of ancient Pompeii going on at the time. Indeed, such first hand exposure to the grandeur and immediacy of Roman art influenced and inspired Coomans to develop his own recognisable Pompeiian style. Coomans settled in Paris in 1860, where he exhibited regularly at the Paris Salons. He died on December 31, 1889 in Boulogne-on-Seine, France. His brother, Jean-Baptiste Coomans, wrote Le Histoire de Belgium (The History of Belgium).
Coomans' works are highly powerful and evocative, rendering in striking detail the haziness and opulent atmosphere of his orientalist, historical subjects. Indeed, dramatically lounging figures and decadent colours are recurring motifs that permeate throughout his work. His key attention to detail and precise application of brushwork have led some to compare his works to the pre-raphaelites, who also fully exploited Byronic orientalism in their works. 'The Whisper' is a powerful evocation of lament and languish, full of pining emotion and expression; a truly beautiful painting.