Rudolph Ernst (1854-1932) was an Austrian orientalist living in Paris. Read more about his life, travels, and works here.
Yes, I have a special place in my art-heart reserved for orientalists. My inner romantic holds her breath when I imagine what it must have been like travelling to the Orient one hundred years ago. My inner historian would like to point out that Ernst’s paintings are not historically or culturally accurate, but even she is silenced by the grace and beauty. Rudolph Ernst couldn’t, of course, paint those harem scenes from life, so most of what you see came from his memory and imagination. For this purpose he collected a large amount of artefacts - cloth, tiles, lamps, jewellery etc. - and used them to piece together the picture he had in mind. I find it highly impressive. If he lived today, I think he would become the greatest fantasy painter ever.
I love many of his paintings, but my favourite has to be the Moorish Interior, and here is why:
- The choice of colours. It is definitely one of Ernst’s darkest pictures. While harmonious and aesthetically pleasing, it also creates the atmosphere of a gilded cage. Romantic, luxurious, but also a bit oppressive and gloomy.
- Light and shadows. I like how both figures are subtly illuminated and yet fit in perfectly with the rest of the scene. The box in the foreground does wonders with the composition. But note how the light patch is cleverly disrupted by a piece of dark cloth. Without it, it would probably be too much of a visual distraction.
- The composition - well, I think this is one of the best compositions I have ever seen. I can’t stop staring at it. So ingenious. The balance of light and dark parts is perfect, and also - have you noticed the shape of the curtain is visually mirrored by the placement of the two figures?
- The curtain itself. I only wish I had a bigger picture. It must be simply stunning from up close. Ernst was a master at painting fabrics, and this is a clear demonstration of his skills.
- The still, quiet, frozen and rather dark scene is perfectly highlighted by the patch of clear blue sky that shows behind the curtain. Excuse me while I am blown away by such brilliance.