Lot 19
  • 19

Rudolf Ernst

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Rudolf Ernst
  • The Fortune Teller, Cairo
  • signed and dated R. Ernst 88 lower left
  • oil on panel
  • 73 by 58.5cm., 28¾ by 23in.


Purchased by the great grandparents of the present owner in New York between 1888 and 1898; thence by descent

Catalogue Note

In the setting for the present work Ernst has taken inspiration from the portal of the Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, regarded as the greatest mosque of the medieval Islamic world. Commissioned by Sultan al-Nasir Hasan, construction began in 1356. The Sultan Hasan also houses a madrasa and is located near the Citadel of Cairo; its walls rise to thirty-six metres, and its minarets to sixty-eight.

Ernst depicts a side gate to the mosque, with its great copper doors and niche with muqarnas decoration, in whose entrance a fortune teller or sufi mystic dispenses his wisdom to a man wearing a Turco-Egyptian hat known as a tarboosh. Men queue up in their dozens in the the blazing afternoon heat to await their turn to be blessed or enlightened.

Ernst's fascination with Islamic culture was sparked by his journeys to Andalusia, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt in the 1880s, and his paintings reflect not only his skills as an artist but the breadth of his knowledge of the cultures he visited. His meticulous finished paintings are worked up from the sketches, photographs, and props and costumes brought back to Paris from his travels. The close cropping of the present composition, particularly of the figure on the right, is clearly indebted to photography, and gives it the sense of a snap shot of everyday life.