Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
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Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)

The favourite

Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
The favourite
signed 'R. Ernst.' (lower right)
oil on panel
36 ¼ x 28 ¼ in. (92 x 71.6 cm.)
with Carroll Gallery, London.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 11 October 1979, lot 106.
Private collection.
Thence by descent (since 1989).
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 2013, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Special notice

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Arne Everwijn
Arne Everwijn

Lot Essay

Originally from Vienna, Rudolph Ernst decided to settle in Paris in 1876, becoming an important member of the second generation of French Orientalist painters. Unlike the first generation of Orientalist painters, such as Jules Vernet and Eugène Delacroix, who were inspired by political events, the second generation displayed a stronger interest in the depiction of everyday life in the Middle East and its exotic opulence. A gifted student of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Ernst adopted the great master's detailed renderings and use of bright colours. He developed a mastery of plasticity and form, best expressed through his depictions of exotic artefacts, which he used primarily as a vehicle through which to express his technical mastery.
Ernst was intimately familiar with the cultures he depicted in his paintings, having visited Morocco, Turkey and southern Spain. He used these trips to amass a vast array of different objects, photographs and illustrated books for his personal collection, which he would reassemble in his studio and use as backdrops in his paintings. Yet his concern was not complete ethnographic accuracy, for sometimes he would juxtapose objects from different cultures in the same composition.
Here, Ernst combines artefacts, textiles, colours, tiles and architectural elements of the East freely. The walls, covered with the artist’s favourite blue and turquoise Iznik tiles, provide an opportunity to display his masterful knowledge of Oriental patterns. The tiger’s fur and carpets on the walls and floor contrast with the cold polished surface of the marble, and create an intimate, sensual setting. The woman’s babouches lie on the floor, slipped off to protect the precious carpets, a detail that gives the scene all its credibility. The couple, dressed in luscious silks, embrace hand in hand besides musical instruments and narguile, objects that likely formed part of Ernst's own collection and recall leisurely pursuits of music and smoking.
In his desire to recreate the spirit of an idyllic Orient, Ernst freely relied upon artistic license to dazzle his wealthy patrons with paintings that had almost a three-dimensional quality. The sense of opulence celebrated in so many of Ernst’s paintings was well-suited to the surroundings in which they would eventually hang. These qualities made Ernst’s works extremely sought-after in his day.

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