Rudolf Ernst is today one of the most celebrated and sought-after Orientalist painters of the nineteenth century. After studying at the Vienna Academy, of which his father was a member, Ernst travelled to Rome and, in the 1880s, to Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and later still to Egypt and Turkey.
In 1876, Ernst settled in France, exhibiting regularly and eventually taking French nationality. After an initial interest in portraits, images of children, and genre scenes, Ernst turned in 1885 to Orientalist subjects, based upon the numerous sketches, photographs, and souvenirs he had accumulated during his travels. In 1900, Ernst moved from Paris to Fontenay-aux-Roses, where he lived a quiet and somewhat reclusive life. One of Ernst's rare visitors was his childhood friend and fellow Orientalist, the Austrian painter Ludwig Deutsch (see lots 87 & 90), to whose works his own bear a marked resemblance.
Ernst's formal training allowed him to create paintings that were notable for their minute attention to detail and their sumptuous rendition of colour and surface texture. Although these works apparently brought to life exotic customs, Ernst worked very much like a modern-day cinematographer, indulging a demand for ever more dramatic narratives. These were constructed from Ernst's extensive collection of carpets, tiles and ceramics, which he combined, like his contemporaries, to create studio assemblages that provided supposed aperçus onto a world otherwise hidden from Western eyes. Harem, mosque and palace interiors such as the present work were particularly favoured subjects.
A Sultan with a Tiger is one of several paintings loosely inspired by India (a country Ernst never visited), in which the artist reveals the extent to which he indulged his own and his audience's imaginations. It combines textiles from Europe and Asia, sculpture from India, tiles from North Africa, a modern Cairo-ware lamp, with a Nubian figure in Islamic dress. Typically, the picture includes just a single, exotically dressed figure, who is given added drama not only by the tiger, but also by Ernst's favourite compositional technique of depicting his subjects from a low perspective, heightening their grandeur and presence.
The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Dr. Lynne Thornton.