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    Sale 7701

    Impressionist/Modern Art, Evening Sale

    4 February 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 38

    Max Ernst (1891-1976)

    Temptation of St. Anthony

    Price Realised  


    Max Ernst (1891-1976)
    Temptation of St. Anthony
    signed, dated, titled and inscribed 'Temptation of St. Anthony (sketch) 1945 max ernst' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    10 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (25.8 x 15.4 cm.)
    Painted in 1945

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    This decalcomania oil painting is the finest surviving study for Ernst's great painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony now housed in the Wilhelm Lembruck Museum in Duisburg. The Temptation of Saint Anthony - a devout third century Christian hermit living in the Egyptian desert who was tempted in mind and body by all the worldly pleasures he had renounced - is a common theme in Western art. Such religious themes had little place amongst the Surrealists however and Ernst's novel adaptation of the fantastical creatures and figures produced by decalcomania to this age-old religious theme was in fact prompted by an International art competition.

    In 1945 Hollywood's Loew Lewin Production company organized a prestigious art competition amongst twelve of the leading avant-garde artists of the day to paint a picture on the theme of the Temptation of St Anthony for use in a forthcoming film version of Maupassant's story of societal ambition and self-corruption Bel Ami. The participating artists in the 'Bel Ami International Art Competition' were: Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Louis Guglielmi, Horace Pippin, Abraham Rattner, Stanley Spencer and Dorothea Tanning. Each participant, save Leonor Fini, who failed to produce any painting, was paid $500 for their work and Ernst, who was adjudged the winner by the 'grand jury' of Alfred H Barr, Marcel Duchamp and Sidney Janis received $3,000 for his entry.

    Deriving from figures suggested to him semi-consciously by the decalcomania technique, Ernst's Temptation of St Anthony was in fact one of the most consciously determined of all his decalcomania works, being inspired not only by the specific theme of St Anthony's Temptation but also by Matthias Grünewald's take on the subject in his Isenheim Altarpiece in the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace. It was Grünewald's precedent amongst the many previous treatments of this subject that determined Ernst's final vision. In the present work, Ernst has chosen to concentrate more on the sexual nature of the 'Temptation'. Presenting a towering cascade, (absent in the final work) of naked female figures and human skeletons emerging from a deep forest of decalcomania pattern to form an hallucinatory-like image of sex and death, this early version is a rich and powerful psychological image of a gothic nightmare.

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    William S. Liebermann, New York, by 1961.
    Little Art Gallery, Newark, New Jersey.
    Private collection, New York.

    Pre-Lot Text



    J. Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, London, 1967, no. 73 (illustrated).
    W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2486 (illustrated p. 101).