MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
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MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)

Paysage avec lac et chimères

MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Paysage avec lac et chimères
signed ‘Max Ernst’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 26 in. (50.8 x 66 cm.)
Painted circa 1940
Peggy Guggenheim, New York.
Dwight Ripley, New York.
E.V. Thaw & Co., New York.
Leonard C. Yaseen, New York.
Serge Sabarsky Gallery, New York.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
Gerrit Lansing, Connecticut.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 19 May 1981, lot 355.
Private collection, United States (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, London, 25 June 1991, lot 35.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 9 May 2000, lot 509.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
W. Spies, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, p. 27, no. 2354 (illustrated).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Surrealism in Art, February-March 1975.
Seattle, Experience Music Project, DoubleTake: From Monet to Lichtenstein, April 2006-January 2007, pp. 22-23 (illustrated in color).
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, pp. 30 and 132, no. 32 (illustrated in color, p. 133).
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Lot Essay

Formerly in the collection of Peggy Guggenheim, Paysage avec lac et chimères emerged during a period of great unrest and turmoil in Max Ernst’s life. At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 Ernst had been living with his paramour Leonora Carrington, a young, English-born Surrealist artist and writer, in an early eighteenth-century farmhouse in the village of Saint Martin d’Ardêche. Though the storm clouds of war had been brewing on the horizon for many months, the declaration still came as something of a shock to the two painters—as a German national, Ernst was immediately interned as an enemy alien by the French authorities, and sent to a prison camp known as Les Milles, near the town of Aix-en-Provence. Though released after several weeks through the intercession of the poet Paul Eluard, he was detained once again in May of the following year. When he eventually managed to escape, shortly before his official release, Ernst returned to the farmhouse to discover that Carrington, lost in an ever-worsening spiral of despair and growing psychosis, had been persuaded to sell their house and its entire contents, before fleeing to Spain in the company of friends. Ernst spent the rest of 1940 waiting for news of Carrington, while also trying to organize his own escape plan from France.
Despite the upheaval and often harrowing circumstances he was living in, Ernst continued to work intensely throughout this period. During his internment, he had begun to experiment with the semi-automatic technique of decalcomania, working alongside the German artist and fellow detainee Hans Bellmer, to create random patterns of Rorschach-like marks made by pressing a smooth surface such as paper or glass against thinned paint. Pioneered by Oscar Domínguez as a technique for working in gouache, Ernst adapted the process to oil paint with great success, using stencils to restrict the movement of the fluid pigment, limiting it to certain portions of the canvas. As with the discovery of frottage in the 1920s, decalcomania gave Ernst’s art a new intensity and vigor, leading to “a marvelous expansion of his visual world” (W. Spies, ed., Max Ernst, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 230). Over the course of 1940, he produced a series of eerie landscapes in which strange creatures poured forth from the spontaneous patterns, their forms seeming to grow out of the coagulated vegetation and geological formations conjured by the passages of decalcomania, and then given shape by subtle touches of Ernst’s paintbrush.
In the Paysage avec lac et chimères, these fantastical creatures remain partially camouflaged by their surroundings, so that the eye strains to pick them out. Nevertheless, their presence lends an unsettling note to the landscape, as if an innocuous stony outcrop may suddenly come to life. In the foreground, a large figure with the head of a bird strides forward, their gaze locked on the viewer as their slender fingers caress the rough surface of the rock-face. Though in Greek mythology the Chimera was traditionally a monstrous, fire-breathing creature that combined various body parts of a lion, a goat and a snake, the term was often used interchangeably to describe any fantastical hybrid-beast. Such creatures figured prominently in the works of both Carrington and Ernst during these years, a reflection of their shared interest in mythology, witchcraft, European folklore, and the occult.
Writing in 1942, Henry Miller explained that such hybrid characters were a central element in the unparalleled inventiveness of Ernst’s fantastical landscapes of these years: “The chimaeras, the unearthly vegetation, the symbolic episodes, the haunting passages which lead us in the twinkling of an eye from the fabulous to the invisible and frightening realities… are not dream images any more than they are accidents. They are the product of an inventive mind endeavoring to translate in worldly language experiences which belong to another dimension… They are compact with wonder and mystery, awesomely real. A glow emanates from them which arises neither from the day world nor the night world” (“Another Bright Messenger,” in View, Series II, no. 1, April 1942, New York).

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