Forbidden Fruit

RUDOLF ERNST (1854-1952)

Forbidden Fruit

1854 Austria

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Austrian 1854–1932
The Forbidden Fruit
Pencil, watercolour & bodycolour, Signed lower left
Image size:21 x 15¾ inches (53 x 40 cm)
Original gilt frame
The son of the well-known architectural painter Leopold Ernst (1808-1862), Rudolph was born in Vienna in 1854. He joined the Vienna Academy of Fine Art in 1869 where he studied under August Eisenmenger (1830-1907) and Anselme Feuerbach (1829-1880). From 1874-75 he continued his studies in Rome, where he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the Favoriten Church in Vienna. Two years later he moved to Paris where he set up a studio and took French nationality, changing his name to "Rodolphe".

He began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1877. His early Salon paintings were mainly portraits and European interiors. It was not until 1885 that he made his debut in Orientalist painting exhibiting "Dans la Médersa", which probably dates from just after his travels to Spain and Morocco. From this point he painted almost exclusively Orientalist scenes. The notes and sketches made during Ernst's journeys to Granada, Morocco, and later to Constantinople in 1890, provided the material for these paintings. Usually set against a Moroccan, Turkish or Hispano-Moorish background, his favourite subjects included Nubian guards, palaces, richly decorated mosque interiors, nargilah smokers, street scenes and even tiger hunts.

Ernst was particularly interested in the decorative arts of the countries he visited and almost certainly brought back artefacts with which to decorate his house and to use as accessories in his paintings. He captures the textures of fabrics, motifs of cushions and carpets, ceramic tiles and metalwork with photographic precision. They are depicted in jewel-like colours of garnet red, coral pink, turquoise and emerald green, usually with one or two figures in gorgeous silken robes. The variety of oriental objects depicted in his work and his close attention to detail give his paintings an air of authenticity and an exotic atmosphere. Ernst was also appreciated during his lifetime for his ceramic tiles depicting figures in Muslim dress. In fact, at the turn of the century, he was as well known for these as for his Orientalist paintings.

Ernst's style of painting is often discussed along the same terms as Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935), another Austrian Orientalist who came to study in Paris shortly after Ernst, and with whom Ernst became close friends. Both artists were influenced by the photographic realism and rich glossy colours, in the paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme. They also favoured similar subjects, such as mosque interiors at the time of prayer, Arab street traders and Palace guards. Ernst, however, probably had a freer, more imaginative approach to his subject, incorporating greater variety of detail.

Ernst exhibited at Vienna and Munich from 1875. He also participated in the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, where he won a bronze medal, and also in 1900, and he was a regular contributor to the Salon des Artistes Français for nearly 60 years.

The 1890s were his most productive decade. Although his paintings were practically ignored by critics of his day, they were sought after by collectors, so much so that he was sometimes asked to produce replicas to meet demand. He was also commissioned to produce paintings by important French personalities, usually portraits.


Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco, CA, Dahesh Museum, New York, Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz and the Dolmabahçe Saray in Istanbul.


Benezit, Dictionary of Painters, Vol II, p189

Botticher, Works of Art of the 19th Century I (1891)

Catalogue, Salon Society of French Art, Paris 1879-1913

"Les Orientalistes des Ecoles Allemande et Autrichienne" by Martina Haja & Günther Wimmer (ACR Editions, Paris, 2000), pp226-234

Paris Universal Exhibition 1900 Catalogues, General Works of Art, p291

"The Najd Collection" by Caroline Juler (1991), pp74-105

"The Orientalists Painter-Travellers 1828-1908" by Lynne Thornton (ACR Editions, Paris, 1983), pp224-228
Height 53.00 cm (20.87 inches)
Width 40.00 cm (15.75 inches)
Pencil, watercolour and bodycolour
Signed lower left
Darnley Fine Art

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