- Rudolf Ernst
- The Waterpipe Smoker
- signed R. Ernst. (lower right)
- oil on panel
- 28 by 36 1/4 in.
- 71.1 by 90.1 cm
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
In addition to numerous pictures of marauding Arab horsemen, bartering merchants, and industrious craftsmen, Orientalist painters also provided their audiences with a steady stream of more introspective images, in which Arab men were shown enjoying the quieter moments of their daily life. Perhaps the most popular of these "leisure" themes was the seated smoker – a subject that offered both an opportunity for ethnographic objectivity (in the precise delineation of the paraphernalia associated with this practice) and, more appealingly, vicarious participation in a legendary pastime. (The number of popular nineteenth century paintings and books that contain references to smoking is remarkable; they range from Jean-Léon Gérôme's extraordinary series of pictures depicting Arnaut guards to such literary classics as The Arabian Nights and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.) In Ernst's work, the mood is one of utter ease and luxury: against a background of polished marble, a kneeling servant ignites his master's gozeh from a smoldering incense burner. (The gozeh is a distinctive type of waterpipe with a straight cane stem rather than the more common flexible tube.) The smoker, momentarily risen from his bed of woven carpets and silk-covered pillows, his bare feet resting atop a soft tiger pelt (one of Ernst's favorite exotic motifs), purses his lips and prepares to inhale.
This catalogue note was written by Dr. Emily M. Weeks