- Rudolf Ernst
- The Perfume Makers
- signed R. Ernst lower right; dedicated à Madame Lintilhac souvenir affectueux upper right
- oil on panel
The Perfume Makers is an evocation of perfect feminine conviviality and complicity. Two young women are seen working in harmony together; as one girl enters the room carrying a basket of roses, her companion plucks the petals and places them in the urn by her side, ready for crushing to extract their aromatic essence. While the scene is one of tranquility and modesty, the luxuriant and plentiful petals whose scent is almost palpable, the azur blue sky and distant sun-drenched seashore glimpsed through the doorway, the colourful tiles, and the eastern copper and earthenware lend the painting an unspoken sensuality and exotic atmosphere.
Despite their ethnographic detail, depictions of middle-eastern women like this are ultimately constructs of the artist's imagination, since Westerners would have been prohibited by local custom from observing many of the places and customs they painted. Rather, The Perfume Makers, like many of Ernst's works, is the product of assiduous research and poetic licence, and while he did travel to Turkey, Egypt and North Africa, it was to observe, make sketches, and collect the many props he used for his finished paintings. Ernst decorated his Paris studio in an eclectic 'Eastern' style, in which he would paint wearing a tarboosh, and where he was often sought out by American visitors eager to acquire his highly finished pictures which they would have seen at the Paris Salon.