Born in Vienna in 1854, Ernst studied under Feuerbach and Eisenmenger at the Viennese Academy. While the early paintings that he exhibited at the Munich and Vienna Secessions from 1875 on were focused on portrait and genre subjects, his mature works favored Orientalist scenes that were inspired by his 1886 trip to Morocco and Constantinople. Although Ernst had exhibited reguarly at the Salon after moving to Paris in 1876, it was not until he started painting Orientalist subjects that he was to receive international acclaim. The Orienalist picture Ernst exhibited in the 1889 Exposition Universelle earned him a bronze medal and in 1890 he received an honorable mention in the Salon d'Automne. Along with Ludwig Deutsch (see lot 27), Ernst was Austria's foremost Orientalist painter. During his lifetime, his paintings were commissioned by collectors who included not only Europeans and Americans, but also the Minister Agop Pacha of Constantinople.
In Standing Guard Ernst presents a powerful image of a guard, dressed in his imperial attire. The figure stands imposingly against the backdrop of the entrance to the Palace with his sword drawn from its sheath. The mysterious world of the Palace exerted an extraordinary fascination upon Western artists and was the subject of many Orientalist pictures. Since access by Westerners was limited, the Palace often took on the symbolism of a fortress wherein the guards formed a human barrier. Ernst promotes this notion in Standing Guard not only through the pose of the figure but also by the depiction of the formidable architecture with its towering doorway and roughly hewn stone walls.