Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
Property from a Texas Collection
Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)

An Arab in a Palace Interior

Rudolph Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
An Arab in a Palace Interior
signed 'R. Ernst.' (lower right)
oil on panel
25 ½ x 21 in. (64.8 x 53.3 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 19 November 1993, lot 127.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Ranked in the top echelon of Orientalist painters of the second half of the 19th Century, Rudolf Ernst was a craftsman who used his exotic subject matter primarily as a vehicle through which to he expressed his technical mastery of transferring a real sense of texture and color to a painting's surface. Like his compatriot, Ludwig Deutsch, Ernst developed a mastery of plasticity and form, which was best expressed through his depictions of artifacts. His concern was not complete ethnographic accuracy, for sometimes he would juxtapose objects from different cultures in the same composition, but more to dazzle his wealthy patrons with paintings that had almost a three-dimensional quality.

These qualities made Ernst’s works extremely sought-after in his day. He was a popular and frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salon and was rated particularly high by American clients who sought out his large scale works to decorate their vast houses. The sense of opulence celebrated in so many of Ernst’s paintings was well-suited to the surroundings in which they would eventually hang.

Ernst was intimately familiar with the cultures he depicted in his paintings. The artist visited Morocco, Turkey and the Moorish palaces of Spain. He used these trips to exotic lands to amass a vast array of different objects for his personal collection, which he would reassemble in his studio and use as backdrops and props for his paintings. He would also supplement the source material of his collection with information provided by an extensive personal collection of photographs and illustrated books.

The present work is clearly influenced by the vision of Ludwig Deutsch in the placement of a luxuriously dressed Arab in a lavishly decorated interior. A fine draftsman and extraordinary colorist, Ernst pays meticulous attention to every detail of the composition, from the ivory inlays decorating the archway over the door, to the green and black tiles on the walls, to the intricately decorated urn and torchère which flank the emerging figure. What Ernst has reached for, and attained, is an aura of exotic luxury in a faraway land.

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