MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
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MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
9 More
Property from the Neumann Family Collection
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)

Un ami empressé

MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Un ami empressé
signed and dated 'Max Ernst 1944' (on the left side of the base)
bronze with brown patina
Height: 26 ¼ in. (66.6 cm.)
Conceived in 1944; this bronze version cast in 1957
Julien Levy, Bridgewater, Connecticut.
Richard L. Feigen & Co., Inc., New York.
Morton G. Neumann, Chicago (acquired from the above, 1 April 1968, then by descent to the present owners).
M. Ernst, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends, New York, 1948, p. 89 (plaster version illustrated).
M. Jean, Histoire de la peinture surréaliste, Paris, 1959, p. 378 (another cast illustrated, p. 309).
A. Ferrier, "Max Ernst: Sculpteur" in L'Œil, no. 84, December 1961, p. 69, no. 84.
J. Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work, New York, 1967, p. 352, no. 130 (another cast illustrated, p. 329; with incorrect dimensions).
W.S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York, 1968, pp. 262 and 480 (another cast illustrated, p. 262, fig. 251).
J. Levy, "Hommage à Max Ernst" in XXe siècle, 1971, p. 62.
U.M. Schneede, Max Ernst, London, 1972, pp. 181 and 213, no. 351 (another cast illustrated, p. 181).
E. Quinn, Max Ernst, New York, 1977, p. 259, no. 313 (another cast illustrated in situ in the artist's garden, Seillans, France, pp. 261 and 414).
J. auf der Lake, Skulpturen von Max Ernst: Aesthetische Theorie und Praxis, Frankfurt, 1986, pp. 113-114 (another cast illustrated, figs. 29a-c).
W. Spies, Max Ernst: Werke, 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, p. 92, no. 2472.I (another cast illustrated).
J. Levy, Memoir of an Art Gallery, Boston, 2003, p. 271 (plaster version illustrated in situ).
U. Bischoff, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, Cologne, 2005, p. 82 (another cast illustrated).
J. Pech, Max Ernst: Plastische Werke, Cologne, 2005, pp. 58-62 (plaster version illustrated, pp. 59 and 60; another cast illustrated, pp. 11 and 61-63).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Morton G. Neumann Family Collection, August-December 1980, p. 56, no. 46 (illustrated).
Further Details
This work will be included in the forthcoming volume of the Max Ernst catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared by Werner Spies in collaboration with Sigrid Metken and Jürgen Pech.

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Lot Essay

During the summer of 1944, Max Ernst rented a beach house in Great River, on the south shore of Long Island, with his partner Dorothea Tanning. The artist had planned on spending several leisurely weeks relaxing and swimming, enjoying the weather and an extended break away from the city. However, the ever-present mosquitoes soon drove Ernst inside, leading him to screen off the garage and convert the space into a small studio. Here, he immersed himself in creating sculptures, expanding upon the small plaster forms he had experimented with in France during the mid-1930s, before the outbreak of the Second World War, to create unique carvings in mahogany and dynamic assemblages in plaster. Un ami empressé comes from this extraordinary series of sculptural works, its simplified geometric characters with expressive faces capturing the sense of chance that governed Ernst’s approach to art-making during this highly experimental summer.
The artist’s gallerist Julien Levy and his future-wife, the artist Muriel Streeter, joined Ernst and Tanning that summer, and Levy was instantly taken with the originality of the sculptures he discovered in the house on Long Island: “I feel terribly impressed, and I confess in confidence to Dorothea that Max has suddenly become the greatest sculptor in the modern world” (quoted in W. Spies, Max Ernst: Sculptures Maisons Paysages, exh. cat., Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, p. 132). In his memoirs, Levy also recalled the way inspiration often struck the artist in the most ordinary, everyday moments, prompting a wave of new ideas for his bourgeoning sculptures. “Max had taken over the garage as a studio and there he poured his plaster of Paris into ingenious molds of the most startling simplicity and originality—shapes found among the old tools in the garage plus utensils from the kitchen. One evening he picked up a spoon from the table, sat looking at it with that abstracted, distant sharpness one finds in the eyes of poets, artists, and aviators. He carefully carried it away to his garage. It would be the mold for the mouth of his sculpture, An Anxious Friend” (Memoir of an Art Gallery, Boston, 2003, pp. 270 and 271).
The resulting sculpture is an intriguing, double-sided work, featuring two humanoid figures standing back-to-back, their forms constructed from a series of carefully delineated, stacked geometric shapes. Both characters appear in a series of stepped advancing planes, while their heads, decorated with small spherical additions and protrusions that indicate eyes and mouths, project forward from their “bodies” in a dramatic sweep. This bold choice may have been inspired by architect Frederick Kiesler’s designs for the Surrealist room in the first public exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection under the title Art of this Century, in New York in 1942. In the gallery, paintings by Ernst, Joan Miró, Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte, were mounted on arms that jutted forward from the concave wall panels, thrusting the surrealist canvases into the viewers’ space and creating the impression that the artworks were floating freely in space.
At the same time, Jürgen Pech has argued that the subject of Un ami empressé draws inspiration from classical Greek mythology, and the tales of Herakles. In the eleventh of his infamous twelve labors, the ancient hero—represented by the smaller of the two figures here—outwits the titan Atlas, who had been banished to the edge of the world by Zeus and forced to hold up the skies on his shoulders for eternity. Tasked with finding the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, which bestow immortality on their possessor, Herakles offered to trade places and take on Atlas’s burden in exchange for his help in locating the treasure. Atlas agreed, but secretly intended to keep the apples for himself and leave Herakles to carry out his punishment in his stead. The sculpture’s title, Un ami empressé, which also translates to the ambiguous phrase A Solicitous Friend, invokes the moment when Atlas and Herakles each realize they need the other to succeed with their individual plans, and forge a tenuous partnership.
Ernst was clearly pleased with the plaster assemblage, and posed proudly beside it in several photographs from the summer in Great River. “The field of hayweed and scrub behind our hybrid house became a sculpture garden. On improvised pedestals Max mounted his finished plasters,” Levy recalled. “André Breton came out to visit. He admired Max’s sculpture and I could see Max was pleased, that he gave great weight to Breton’s opinion. I photographed Breton and Ernst in the field with Ernst’s sculpture, ‘An Anxious Friend’” (ibid., p. 273). Un ami empressé was cast in bronze in 1957 in an edition of 12 or 13, other examples of which can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Menil Collection, Houston.

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