• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7587

    19th Century European Art including Orientalist and Spanish Art

    2 July 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 62

    Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)

    The jewellery box

    Price Realised  


    Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
    The jewellery box
    signed 'R.Ernst' (lower left)
    oil on panel
    29 x 23 in. (73.7 x 58.5 cm)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    In the present work, Ernst is at the height of his powers. The figure of the chieftain is exquisitely painted in his rich silk embroidered robes. A number of Ernst's signature features appear such as the beautiful Damas inspired tiles and the inlaid marble revetment inspired by Byzantine and Hispano-Moresque examples.

    Ernst's use of architecture is similar to a stage set, the marble and tiles contrast with the intricately carved doorway which seems to combine Ottoman mother-of-pearl inlays with Mamluk-style carved wood. Ernst, frequently used doorways surrounded by exquisitely worked carpentry, and marble masonry to accentuate the might and glory of his sitters. The chieftain is admiring precious jewels, part of his vast treasures and no doubt an allusion to his harem favourite who, for the viewer of the time, was undoubtedly hidden behind the emblematic closed doors.

    Most of the objects Ernst includes in his paintings are from his own personal collection. Similarly to Jean-Léon Gérôme and Ludwig Deutsch, with whom he was close friends, Ernst had gathered a sizeable group of artefacts, tiles, lamps, pottery, silks, satins and kaftans, from his travels to Moorish Spain, Morocco, Tunis and Istanbul during the 1880s. In fact, Ernst's studio, crammed full of these artefacts resembled a stage-set. The paintings he created there were visual anthologies, combining elements of these props with his own sketches and professional photographs. Almost photographic in their detail, his canvases are notable for their polished paint surfaces. The present work perfectly encapsulates the combination of detail and imagined setting: the carefully rendered and sumptuous surfaces of tiles, carpets, stone, architecture and intense light, 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.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    with The Fine Art Society, London, 1978.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.


    London, The Fine Art Society, Eastern Encounters, Orientalist Painters of the Nineteenth Century, 26 June-28 July 1978, no. 106, as: A moor admiring his jewels.