Executed in 1962, Ohne titel testifies to Ernst's remarkable productivity and the in-depth scrutiny of subjects throughout his career. As a Dada and then Surrealist artist, and then one of the few artists of those movements to continue his prolific art production throughout the 1940s to 1960s, Ernst's early work often exhibits a stunning foresight for artistic development only matched by the winsome rehabilitation of themes and processes that would characterize his later work. As Werner Spies has observed, "...it should be noted that already in his Dada years in Cologne, Ernst was making paintings, drawings, and collages that foretold Surrealist concerns in their depiction of the world of the subconscious" ("Nightmare and Deliverance," Max Ernst, A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 4). However, Spies also notes that despite the apparent diversity of Ernst's style, "we find in everything he did a single overriding artistic concept: that of the collage. Ernst took inspiration from the bewildering glut of available images in reproduction. Illustrations of objects and processes that he discovered in publications from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provided material he could recycle in the form of collages" (ibid., p. 3).
Ernst fled Europe during the Second World War, settling in Sedona, Arizona, with the artist Dorothea Tanning for nearly ten years. Upon his return to France in 1953, his paintings developed a particularly dreamlike aura that was marked by a poetic and symbolic vision in the tradition of German Romanticism. The present work invokes a mystical sense of cosmology, combining fantasy and poetry by providing a composition that functions as an autonomous solar system. Although he was never an abstract painter by definition, Ernst embraced during this period a certain degree of abstraction and displayed an understanding of its principles in his work. In conjunction with this tendency and perhaps also as a response to the developments in astronomy and space travel at this time, Ernst began to paint pictures of the earth and the heavens, which culminated in the publishing of his visually scintillating book, Maximiliana, The Illegal Practice of Astronomy in 1964 (fig. 1). With its stained-glass-like mandala representing the moon, rich coloration and abstraction of the landscape, Ohne titel successfully marries his interest in the cosmos with a deep sense of mysticism.
Ernst's attention to the cycles and patterns of nature features as a mystical aspect of his work and he remained fascinated with a basic state of nature as both a paradise lost and a symbolic map to the terra incognita of the human mind. He wrote: "The world throws off its cloak of darkness, it offers to our horrified and enchanted eyes the dramatic spectacle of its nudity, and we mortals have no choice but to cast off our blindness and greet the rising suns, moons and sea levels" (quoted in Histoire naturelle, Cologne, 1965).