Lot 13
  • 13

Rudolf Ernst

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Rudolf Ernst
  • The Perfume Makers
  • signed R. Ernst. (lower left)
  • oil on panel
  • 36 1/2 by 28 7/8 in.
  • 92.7 by 73 cm


Private Collection (acquired circa 1955)
Thence by descent to the present owner


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting on a heavy wooden panel is in beautiful if not perfect condition. The panel is still reinforced at the top and bottom. There are no cracks or areas of instability visible on the wood itself. Very often with Ernst one is used to seeing staining or discoloration, none of which is present here. The paint layer is dirty and may never have been cleaned. Although there may be a few tiny spots of retouch in the sky, they do not show under ultraviolet light. The painting is in beautiful state and will respond well to cleaning and varnish.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Rudolph Ernst exhibited his works at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français for over sixty years and is today one of the most celebrated and sought-after Orientalist painters of the nineteenth century. After studying at the Vienna Academy, Ernst traveled to Rome and, in the 1880s, to Spain, Morocco, and Tunisia. Later travels would take him to Egypt and, in 1890, to Turkey. In 1876, Ernst settled in France, exhibiting regularly and eventually taking French nationality. After an initial interest in portraits, images of children, and genre scenes, Ernst turned in 1885 to Orientalist subjects, based upon the numerous sketches, photographs, and souvenirs he had accumulated during his travels. In 1900, Ernst moved from Paris to Fontenay-aux-Roses, where he lived a quiet and somewhat reclusive life. One of Ernst's rare visitors was his childhood friend and fellow Orientalist, the Austrian painter Ludwig Deutsch (see lot 7), whose works bear a marked resemblance to Ernst's own.

In The Perfume Makers a woman enters the room carrying a basket of roses, the sunlight pouring through the doorway transforming her simple cotton headdress into a diaphanous frame for her lovely face. The light leads the viewer to the rose petals cascading onto the floor, soon to be gathered and crushed in a turquoise urn to extract the aromatic essence used for making perfume. Despite their ethnographic detail, depictions of middle-eastern women such as this are ultimately constructs of the artist's imagination, since Westerners would have been prohibited by Muslim law 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 license, 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. He would paint wearing a tarboosh and often entertained American visitors eager to acquire his meticulously crafted pictures which they would have seen at the Salon.