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Max Ernst (1891-1976)
La Mer
signed 'max ernst' (lower right) and titled 'la mer' (lower left); signed again and dated 'max ernst 1925' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 15 in. (46 x 38 cm.)
painted in 1925
Provenance
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris.
Jeanne Tachard, Paris.
Private collection, Draguignan, France (by descent from the above, by 1976).
Private collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above, 1997).
Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris.
Jan Krugier, acquired from the above, April 2006.
Literature
W. Spies, S. Metken and G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1925-1929, Cologne, 1976, p. 94, no. 974 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das ewige Auge: Von Rembrandt bis Picasso, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, July-October 2007, p. 438, no. 211 (illustrated in color, p. 439).

Lot Essay

The present work belongs to a series of seascapes painted by Ernst during the late summer of 1925 as he stayed in the town of Pornic on the Atlantic coast of France. When, on the 10th of August 1925, Ernst made his revelatory discovery of frottage--the accidental technique of taking rubbings from natural forms as a way of prompting his unconscious mind into what he described as creative "voyages of discovery"--it is no surprise to find that among the first images to emerge from these new works were haunting and mysterious seascapes. After discovering frottage, Ernst continued to explore and evolve the technique, adapting it into "grattage"--the scrubbing and scraping of paint over a canvas laid over pieces of wood in order to reproduce the natural patterns of its grain. Painted shortly after the discovery of this technique, La Mer is among the first of Ernst's grattage paintings. In the present lot, Ernst has built up a vigorous and turbulent ocean which is traversed, at its horizon line, by a black-sailed ship which calls to mind the tale of The Flying Dutchman, the legendary ghost ship that can never make port, doomed to sail the oceans forever.

Frottage was for Ernst a catalyst that prompted him to paint directly from his unconscious. It was, he once explained, "the technical means of augmenting the hallucinatory capacity of the mind so that visions could occur automatically, a means of doffing one's blindness." Following the paths that frottage established, Ernst began to deliberately encourage his art to reveal the complexes that had haunted his imagination. Moreover, from the beginning of 1925, Ernst was able to concentrate solely on his art for the first time and, almost immediately, a series of recognizable creatures and themes, often strongly autobiographical, begins to repeatedly manifest itself in his art. Vogelhochzeit (Bird Marriage), 1925 (fig. 1), another one of Ernst's first explorations of grattage, employs the imagery of the bird, which "evolved into the artist's personal symbol. Ernst' friends often remarked upon his resemblance to a bird, characterized by his sharp piercing eyes and extended nose" (M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth, Austin, 2001, p. 89). The present work's distant boat, or perhaps ghost ship, suggests the travels already undertaken by the German-born Ernst, and foreshadows the many journeys that were to mark the following decades of his life and career.

(fig. 1) Max Ernst, Vogelhochzeit (Bird Marriage), 1925. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. BARCODE: 28859093_FIG.

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