After having fled Europe for America at the outbreak of World War II, Ernst returned to France in 1953 with his fourth wife, Dorothea Tanning (see figure 1). Upon his return, Ernst was welcomed with international acclaim as a master of Modern art. By the time he conceived of the current work in 1960, the couple had moved to the South of France so that Ernst could pursue his artistic concerns in relative privacy. The artist's late works, sculptural and otherwise, reveal a profoundly imaginative vocabulary of recurring images and figures. Though the echoes of his involvement in both the Dada and Surrealist movements are resonant in these late works, there is a wholly personal evolution that leads to their genesis.
Le Génie de la Bastille incorporates the artist's personal lexicon of imagery with a notable emphasis on the influences of primitive and tribal art. The composition recalls the structure of a tribal totem pole and the figure reveals a simplification of form similar to early Cycladic sculpture. Examples of such artifacts were omnipresent at World Fairs and in private collections throughout Europe (see figure 2), and Ernst was undoubtedly exposed to this imagery. The influences from these works reverberate through the oeuvres of master Modern sculptors such as Brancusi, Picasso and Giacometti. Ernst's appropriation of this trend provided an individual and fresh interpretation. Much of his later work in sculpture incorporates these influences and Le Génie de La Bastille is an outstanding example of his ability to combine this intellectual nod to artistic precedent with a playful and imaginative sensibility.
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