- Rudolf Ernst
- The Nubian Guard
- signed R. Ernst lower left
- oil on panel
- 47.5 by 59cm., 18¾ by 23¼in.
Coral Petroleum, Inc. Collection (sale: Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 1985, lot 47)
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 28 May 1992, lot 47
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
In this richly finished work, a Nubian guard stands before an ornate, patinated copper-plated wooden door. What or whom he guards - a barracks, a palace, or a harem - is left to the viewer to speculate, adding narrative tension to the painting. In ornament and design, the door resembles those portals recorded by the great French artist and scholar Achille Prisse d'Avennes (1807-79), and may owe as much to one of these large, richly coloured lithographs, as to sketches made by Ernst on site. The eclectic components of the composition - the engraved stonework, the classical marble column with its ionic capital, the glinting rifle and hookah, the well-worn wooden bench, shiny from use, and the sentinel's smooth gleaming skin contrasting with his rich robes and the white fur of the two cats at his feet - make this painting, like many of Ernst's best works, a veritable tapestry in pattern and texture, a cumulative memory of his disperate travels in the Orient.
After studying at the Vienna Academy, Ernst travelled 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 at the Salon de la Société des artistes français and eventually taking French nationality. After starting out painting portraits and genre scenes, from 1885 Ernst turned exclusively to painting Orientalist subjects, which he worked up from the sketches, photogrpahs, souvenirs, and memories accumulated during his travels. Almost all his paintings were executed in his studio in Paris, which he decorated in an eclectic Eastern style, and in which he would paint wearing a taboosh, the better to transport himself mentally into the world created in his canvases.