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Important Works from the Najd Collection


Rudolf Ernst
signed R. Ernst. lower right
oil on panel
100 by 79cm., 39½ by 31in.


Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 1984, lot 40
Mathaf Gallery, London
Purchased from the above


Riyadh, Intercontinental Hotel, Exhibition of Important 19th Century and contemporary paintings of Arabia at the Intercontinental Hotel, Riyadh, 1984, illustrated in the catalogue, illustrated in the catalogue


Caroline Juler, Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings, London, 1991, p. 78, catalogued & illustrated, p. 83, cited

Catalogue Note

In 1890, Ernst travelled to Constantinople, a trip which would have a profound impact on his artistic output, hitherto focused on Moorish and North African subjects. Working from photos or his own sketches and memory, he made a series of paintings of mosques seen from outside and inside.

Here, Ernst depicts the façade of the Selim Türbe, Sultan Selim's tomb, in the precincts of Hagia Sophia. As an avid ceramicist himself, who learnt the technique from commercial potter and glass-maker Léon Fargue in Paris, he observed the two Iznik tile panels flanking the entrance with particular interest and accuracy; the pale green cartouche proclaims the shahada, or the Islamic declaration of faith: 'There is only one God, and his Prophet is Mohamed.'  

Under the reformist Sultan Mahmud II, the capital of the Ottoman Empire experienced rapid modernisation and westernisation: the Orient Express railway service, inaugurated in 1871, directly linked the city to Paris. Women wore the latest fashions imported from across Europe. The School of Fine Arts, established by Osman Hamdy Bey, employed French, German and Italian painters to teach Turkish students the European figurative style of painting. Nevertheless, Ernst preferred to focus on Turkey’s traditional Muslim heritage, skills and trades. Here, a woman employs the services of a scribe to read or interpret a letter for her, while a fruit seller sits on the steps offering slices of melon to worshippers and passers-by.

Important Works from the Najd Collection