Rudolf Ernst, born in Vienna in 1854, was the son of the architectural painter Leopold Ernst. After attending the Vienna Academy in 1869 and exhibiting in Munich he traveled to Italy in 1874. As early as 1876 Ernst decided to settle in Paris where he would exhibit at the Salon for the following six decades.
Like his close friend Ludwig Deutsch, who also took French nationality, Ernst belongs to the second generation of Orientalist painters. The first generation, such as Delacroix, Vernet, Collin and Chassèriau were inspired by political events such as the liberation of Greece and Napoleon's conquest of Algiers. Artists from the second half of the century such as Gérôme, Bauernfeind, Deutsch and Ernst were more interested in depicting scenes from the daily life of the East such as Bedouins gathering in sun bathed deserts, Bashi-Bazouks resting, Nubians guarding palaces or odalisques smoking narghiles in opulent harems.
Ernst's first taste of the East was sparked by journeys to Moorish Spain, Morocco and Tunis during the 1880s, followed by a visit to Constantinople and Egypt in 1890. On these travels he became very interested in Eastern styles of decoration, in particular tile-making, and by 1900 he left Paris to live in Fontenay-aux-Roses, where he decorated his home in an Ottoman style and lived among the oriental objects which figured so largely in his paintings. He even painted wearing the tasseled cap known as a tarboosh.
Heavily influenced by the academic style of Jean-Léon Gérôme, both Ludwig Deutsch and Rudolf Ernst implemented the French master's exactitude in detail and intensity of color. The Lotus of the Sacred Lake is a tour de force of Ernst's Orientalist oeuvre, in which the artist pursues photographic exactitude and academic precision alongside his signature verisimilitude in vibrant and elegant color combinations. The opulent and colorful costumes of the two figures are beautifully juxtaposed and harmonized with the lavender, pink and purple of the irises in the foreground. After the riot of color that permeates the costumes of the two figures and their luxurious surroundings, the viewer’s eye finds solace in the bowl of pure white lotus blossoms which dominate the center of the composition. With The Lotus of the Sacred Lake Ernst succeeds magnificently in his bold attempt to capture the exotic and pulsating colors of the East and fully conveys the magnetism and splendor of these foreign lands.