Painted in 1958, Max Ernst’s Gracieux et subtil (Eclosion) uses a dynamic hatching technique reminiscent of the artist’s coquillage paintings of the 1920s to invoke a mystical sense of cosmology. Although he was never an abstract artist, Ernst had throughout the 1950s embraced a certain degree of abstraction in his work, focusing on the ambiguous relationships between flat planes of rich colour and simplified, enigmatic forms to generate a series of otherworldly compositions in which the subject matter remains elusive. In the present work, the colourful and highly painterly mandala-like form at the centre of the composition appears strangely organic. Redolent of a mysterious planet or cosmic flower, about to burst into bloom, or perhaps a bright glowing sun as it touches the horizon line, it invokes a strange abstract world full of biological possibility. The space beneath appears to undulate and dip under the weight of its glowing red form, as if it is melding to its shape as they touch. Perhaps invoking memories of the glowing sunsets of Arizona, where Ernst had lived during the late 1940s, the combination results in a highly Romantic, fantastical landscape, filled with mystery and intrigue.
As for the enigmatic title, Ernst explained that such poetic names emerged only after the completion of his works, after he had time to muse on the forms which had emerged during his semi-automatic process: ‘I never impose a title on a picture; I wait until a title comes to me. When I have completed a picture it often follows me around – often, for a very long time – and only stops tormenting me at the very moment when a title suggests itself, as if by magic’ (Ernst, ‘Woman’s nakedness is wiser than the teachings of the philosophers,’ in Max Ernst: sculture/sculptures, exh. cat., Milan, 1996, p. 39).