The present picture, depicting two young maidens involved in handling and sorting rose petals and buds, features a fascinating exploration between the interior and exterior, the realms of public and private spaces, and work and pleasure. Through Ernst's brushstroke, the task of making perfume becomes the pretext for a sumptuous chromatic feast, in which the intense pink of the rose buds contrasts with the turquoise of the simple jars where the flowers are pressed into essences.
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 from the Middle East, including ceramic tiles, lamps, pottery, silk, satins and kaftans, from his travels to Moorish Spain, Morocco, Tunis and Istanbul during the 1880s.
The present work reveals Ernst's fascination with light and surface texture, which these objects allowed him to explore. The shading of the figure on the right, shown à contre jour, is particularly sophisticated, and contrasts strongly with the white dress of her companion, illuminated by the light pooling on the tiled floor. Ernst has purposefully juxtaposed as many objects with different textures as possible: jute and wool rugs; metal and ceramic; earthenware and glazed tiles; fabric and petals. The overall effect is to create a quiet, exotic still life.
Ernst produced several different versions of this subject, but in the quality of its detailing and impressive size, the present work is by far the finest.