Rudolf Ernst is today one of the most celebrated and sought-after Orientalist artists of the 19th Century. Born in Vienna in 1854, the son of the architectural painter Leopold Ernst, the young Rudolf received his early artistic training at the Vienna Academy. During his last year of schooling, he and his peer Franz Simm won a scholarship which allowed them to travel first through Italy, then Morocco, Spain and Tunis before settling in Paris and taking French citizenship. In Paris he made contact with Charles Wilda and Arthur Ferraris amongst other Orientalists, and made himself known to artist circles. He continued to travel throughout the 1890s, visiting Turkey and Egypt. While on his travels, the artist bought artifacts, pottery, katftans and textiles, which he brought back to France and used over and over again (fig. 1) to enhance the authenticity of his paintings.
Heavily influenced by the academic style of Jean-Léon Gérôme, both Ludwig Deutsch and Rudolf Ernst concentrated on exactitude in detail and intensity of color. L'Escorte is a fine example from Ernst's Orientalist oeuvre, where the artist strives for photographic exactitude and academic precision while enhancing the composition with his signature verisimilitude in vibrant and elegant color combinations. The colorful textiles on the escort, lady and camel, executed in jewel-tones of green, blue, red, and gold are set off magnificently by the earth tones of the background. The punctuation of these bold and exquisitely rendered costumes enhances the intrigue of the scenario.
This was clearly one of the artist's favorite compositions, as at least two other versions are known, albeit with slight variations. The paintings he created there were visual anthologies, combining elements of these props with his own sketches and professional photographs. Ernst's canvases are notable for their polished paint surfaces. The present work perfectly encapsulates the combination of detail and imagined setting: the precariously placed porcelain vase, the neatly arranged rugs covering the camel's back, the poised escort with his western rifle set against the grey of the desert, are crafted together to create an overall composition artfully designed to dazzle an audience fascinated by the Orient. The technique of setting lavishly dressed figures against intricate backdrops was a favourite of Ernst's, one which permitted him to show off his skill at rendering different exotic textures and surfaces, from the richness of clothing to the reflective properties of tiles.
(fig. 1) Detail from Rudolf Ernst, La Sortie de la mariée, Najd Collection.
The present lot hanging in the home of Cecil Elmes.