• Orientalist Masterpieces Inclu auction at Christies

    Sale 7823

    Orientalist Masterpieces Including an Important Private Collection

    25 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 17

    Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)

    By the entrance

    Price Realised  


    Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
    By the entrance
    signed 'R Ernst' (lower right)
    oil on panel
    25½ x 21¼ in. (65 x 54 cm.)

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    The composition of a single male figure in a doorway was a pictorial template which Ernst turned to often, and varied to highly skilful effect. Whether a guard at a doorway, a suitor on a threshhold, or a nobleman making a grand entrance, Ernst drew on a gallery of types whose attitudes varied from warrior-like nobility to the near Romanticism of the figure depicted in the present work.

    The doorway motif, which appears in the majority of Ernst's paintings, serves to emphasise the difference between what is seen and unseen. An entrance to a mosque or a harem, for example, suggests a world that is forbidden to the Western viewer. This is consonant with Ernst's very particular strain of Orienatlism, which was concerned with heightening a sense of mystery and exoticism in general, rather than in accurately accurately representing the culture of a particular region.

    In this painting, Ernst depicts a nobleman holding an elaborately decorated hookah; he appears to be waiting, casually resting against the closed gate behind him. The roses curling above the doorway are a floral motif usually associated in Ernst's paintings with feminine motifs and hint at a romantic assignation. But the image could also be seen as a metaphor for languid idleness, a mood reinforced by the twilight setting and the almost genteel decay of the garden wall.

    The present work depicts Ernst's usual mastery of form and plasticity, and contrasts of textures and colours. Many of the motifs in the present work, including the celadon-coloured pot, the rug, and tile patterns, can be found in other works by the artist, and were drawn from the artist's extensive private collection of Oriental artefacts. The interchangeability of Ernst's motifs for atmospheric effect is also reflected in two paintings, today in the Najd Collection. In one of these (fig. 1), the same character appears dressed in mauve silk, smoke emanating from his mouth; the composition is different, but the pose identical. The other painting is a smaller variant of the present work, with only minor differences of detail.

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    Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 2 November 2001, lot 40.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text