Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932) The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)

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Lot 25
Rudolf Ernst
(Austrian, 1854-1932)
The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)

Sold for US$ 225,075 inc. premium
Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932)
The palace guard (Awaiting an audience)
signed 'R. Ernst.' (lower right)
oil on panel
24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)


  • Provenance
    with M. Newman, Ltd., London;
    Sale, Phillips, London, 19th Century European Paintings and Watercolours, 23 June 1998, lot 49;
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Tom Verde, A Man of Two Worlds, Saudi Aramco World [online edition] 59.1 (January/February 2008).

    Among the most striking and immediately recognizable images in Orientalist art are the Arab sentinels of Rudolf Ernst. These solitary standing figures are typically silhouetted against a window or doorway, the objects of their stewardship tantalizingly unseen. Their meticulously rendered accessories, often repeated from picture to picture and drawn from a virtual library of personal souvenirs, museum pieces, photographs, and illustrations in widely circulated books, suggest an interconnected and semi-fictional narrative that scholars have yet to fully resolve. In The palace guard, a painting which features one of Ernst's favorite mustachioed models, the play between reality and creativity, objectivity and high drama, takes a particularly meaningful turn. In addition to providing a striking example of one of Ernst's most popular themes, it offers insight into his working method, and into his surprising modernism as well.

    The man in Ernst's picture wears an abundance of finely tailored garments, featuring some of the patterns and materials the artist liked best. (These pensive figures are often only partially dressed, in order to expose their formidable musculature, or, as here, they are draped in luxurious silks and satins, to highlight Ernst's adeptness at the depiction of elaborately wrapped and layered textiles.) The lavishness of the man's clothing is suggested by the metallic sheen of the threads, the intricacy of the designs, and their substantial volume and weight. Around the man's head is a swathe of white cloth, tied loosely at the nape of the neck to create a simple but elegant turban. The rhythmic arc of its wrapping and its trailing end leads the eye around and then downwards, to the rest of the impressive wardrobe he sports.

    The striped blue and white fabric of the man's tailored qumbaz, or ankle-length coat, with its subtle iridescent shimmer, suggests that it is made from Syrian satin or ghabani or roza silk. It is covered by a richly embroidered robe, the interior colors and arabesque patterns of which are echoed throughout Ernst's composition. Across the man's waist is secured an ornately decorated Turkish saber in its scabbard, another familiar motif in Ernst's expansive yet cohesive oeuvre. Indeed, this accessory, along with the man's distinctive pose, are repeated in others of the artist's pictures, suggesting not merely Ernst's own interest in the subject, but its popularity among clients as well (Cf. The Arab Prince, oil on panel, 33 x 23.5 cm [13 x 9.3 in.]). The straight blade of this weapon, as opposed to the more traditional curve of a yatagan or other similar type, suggests the influence of European arms and fashions, and the gradual transformation of the venerable Ottoman guard. Such topical glosses are unusual in Orientalist pictures, and an idiosyncratic feature that would become increasingly apparent in Ernst's progressive art.

    Ernst began his studies at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, of which his father, an architectural painter, was a member. He then settled in Paris in 1876. During his many years in that city, Ernst exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, and made a number of influential friends. His colleagues included the Orientalist painters Charles Wilda (1854-1907) and Arthur von Ferraris (1856-1936), who may have influenced his later decision to travel abroad, and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), whose subject matter and frequent Middle Eastern journeys had a more demonstrable effect. (Gérôme's intensely detailed academic style was also of great interest to Ernst; the saturated hues, jewel-like tones, and nearly photographic realism of his works – qualities which were accentuated by Ernst's regular use of treated wooden panels rather than canvases - can in some instances be traced to this influential master.)

    In the 1880s, Ernst toured Spain, Morocco, and Tunisia. Later he would visit Egypt and Turkey. Ernst's initial interest in portraits, images of children, and genre scenes gave way in 1885 to Orientalist subjects, based upon the numerous sketches, photographs, and souvenirs he accumulated abroad. An avid student of Middle Eastern applied arts, and a talented ceramicist himself, Ernst's highly wrought compositions may also have benefited from his visits to the several international exhibitions and museum collections in Vienna and Paris that featured Islamic decorative art and architecture, and to the popular, large-format lithographs produced after drawings by the French artist and scholar Achille Prisse d'Avennes (1807-1879) and the British designer Owen Jones (1809-1874). So too, Ernst's interest in collecting photographs of the cities to which he traveled, from both the famous Abdullah Frères and G. Lekegian in Cairo, eventually led him to become a skilled amateur photographer, producing images that were later used for his art. By the time of his death in 1932, Ernst had created hundreds of Orientalist paintings based on this eclectic and revolving library of sources, making him one of the most prolific – and identifiable - artists in the genre.

    In 1889, Ernst took part in the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was awarded a bronze medal. He exhibited again at the Exposition Universelle in 1900. Also at this time, Ernst moved from Paris to the suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses and adopted a more reclusive lifestyle. One of Ernst's rare visitors was his childhood friend and fellow Orientalist, the Austrian painter Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935), whose works bear a marked resemblance to Ernst's own. Though both of these artists remained associated with the Viennese Orientalist school, they would eventually gain French citizenship and national renown.

    In the present work, the numerous resources from which Ernst drew are in evidence, as is his preference for creating imaginative, collage-like compositions rather than straight transcripts from life. The metalwork of the window, for example, recalls the sebils, or public fountains, of Turkey and Egypt, and the windows of the Muhammad 'Ali Mosque in Cairo as well (fig. 1). The interlocking pattern of these particular decorative openings is invented, however, and the thinness of their tracery renders them better suited to paint than to an attempt to construct them by hand. The tilework in the picture is equally rooted in fiction and fact: it references the blue and white walls of Istanbul's Rüstem Pasha and the Blue (Aqsunqur) Mosque in Cairo, favorite sketching sites of the artist, but the likeness is not exact. (For similar tilework, see also Ernst's The Venerated Elder, oil on panel, 92.7 x 71.1 cm [36.5 x 28 in.], and for the tracery windows, see La présentation de l'épée au Pacha, oil on panel, 99 x 78.5 cm [39 x 30.9 in]). This is not a simple historical record of Ernst's travels in the Middle East, then, but an unapologetic assemblage of the interests and creativity that they, often years later, inspired.

    We are grateful to Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D., for providing the present catalogue note.
Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932) The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)
Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932) The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)
Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932) The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)
Rudolf Ernst (Austrian, 1854-1932) The palace guard (Awaiting an audience) 24 1/8 x 19 3/8in (61.3 x 49.3cm)
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