- Rudolf Ernst
- Outside the Mosque
- signed R. Ernst. (lower right)
- oil on panel
- 28 3/8 by 36 1/4 in.
- 72 by 92 cm
Acquired at the above sale
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Following his studies at the Vienna Academy (his architectural painter father was a member), Rudolf Ernst traveled to Rome, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia and, later, Egypt and Turkey. By 1885, he had moved from children's portraits and genre scenes to Orientalist subjects based on sketches, photographs and souvenirs accumulated during this travels. Composed in his studios in France (where he had settled in 1876), his best Orientalist compositions depicted Arab and Ottoman customs, harems, scenes of women's domestic life or, as with Outside the Mosque, the daily rituals of religious life.
Outside the Mosque shows Ernst's characteristic barrage of textures and surfaces, as well as exquisitely rendered objects, garments, and architectural details. Despite his first-hand knowledge of many of the subjects he painted, there is also in these works an unapologetic and even freewheeling eclecticism: Algerian, Turkish, and Egyptian, and Indian motifs are united in these fantastic, rather than accurate, Orientalist images. Outside the Mosque incorporates traditional Indian architecture (and perhaps Babylonian or Assyrian) with familiar figures lifted from his Arab and Ottoman compositions. Surrounded by the attenuated, graceful figures intricately carved into the friezes and columns of the structure, an elder steps away from a dark doorway. In the present work, Ernst has configured the building as a mosque, suggested both by the worshipper's scattered shoes left outside the entrance and the elder's weighty Koran and prayer beads (subhah). Standing at left is a trio of men wearing fabrics that combine ethnic and geographic styles with fanciful decorative effects. While two of these men are absorbed in animated conversation, the central figure looks toward the departing elder perhaps to disengage himself from the debate. The composition's low perspective further heightens the dramatic presence of the men, and allows for a careful study of the looming architecture.
Of all the countries Ernst visited, India was not among them; instead, he used photographs and museum visits to record the architecture of that country so elaborately described in the present work. Indeed, it is often tempting to search out the architectural references, photographic sources, and factual errors in Ernst's Orientalist masterworks like Outside the Mosque. Such pursuits can distract from the visual wonder of these intricately painted scenes, which communicate the artist's amazement as he witnessed -- or re-imagined -- an episode of Muslim life. Although the entire Austrian school of Orientalists were fascinated with such scenes, Ernst had a particularly insatiable imagination.