'The day will come when a forest, until then the friend of dissipation, will decide to frequent only well-behaved places, macadamized roads, and Sunday strollers. She will live on pickled newspapers. Overcome by virtue, she will correct the bad habits of her youth. She will become geometric, conscientious, dutiful, grammatical, judicial, pastoral, ecclesiastical, constructivist and republican...It will be a bore. Will the weather be fine? Of course! We'll go on a presidential hunt.' (Max Ernst, quoted in John Russell, Max Ernst, London, 1967, p. 113)
So wrote Max Ernst in Minotaure in May 1934 in response to the question, 'What will be the death of forests? In this work from 1the same year, Ernst has seemingly fused the strange organic world of the forest and the cold rationalism of man-made geometric forms in a work appropriately entitled Interieur et paysage (Interior and Landscape). Echoing to some extent the bizarre alien landscapes with their high horizon lines that fellow Surrealist Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dali had begun to paint in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in this work Ernst coquillage flowers and other bizarre organic forms seem to populate and float over a strange perspectival geometric landscape.
In pictorial terms Ernst's shell/flowers were the unconscious product of a grattage-like painterly technique of scraping the painted surface of the canvas with a knife to expose grains and patterns that served as prompts for Ernst's ever-fertile imagination and creativity. At the same time the overt prettiness of these shell/flowers, their deliberate and undeniable charm and the romanticism of the weird landscapes and gardens that these forms often generated in Ernst's art were originally seen by the artist a reflection of the deep contentment in his personal life.' Flowers appear' he wrote in his biographical notes for the year 1928 when these images first appeared in his work, 'shell flowers, feather flowers, crystal flowers, tube flowers, Medusa flowers. All of his friends were transformed into flowers. All flowers metamorphosed into birds, all birds into mountains, all mountains into stars. Every star became a house and every house a city.' (Max Ernst, 'Biographical Notes: Tissue of Truth, Tissue of Lies' reproduced in Max Ernst exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 303. )
In this work executed in a period of uncertainty for Ernst in the mid-1930s, the same coquillage flowers have been set like miraculous fantasies into a strangely unnerving and alien landscape. As in the work of de Chirico, Dali and Tanguy, long shadows seem to hint at an hallucinatory evening atmosphere of transience and disquiet.