Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York

Max Ernst
1891 - 1976
Signed Max Ernst (lower left)
Oil on canvas
28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in.
73 by 92 cm
Painted in 1925-26.
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The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Werner Spies.


René Gaffé, Belgium (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, Belgium (a gift from the above in 1938)

Catalogue Note

Executed in the mid-1920s, La Forêt claire belongs to one of the most creative periods in Max Ernst’s oeuvre, marked by a constant stream of technical experimentation and invention. It was during these years that the artist established his personal mythology, his visual universe of themes and images that were to become central to his entire career. One of Ernst’s key subjects was the forest, and it was in the series of Forêt paintings of the 1920s that Ernst for the first time fully explored his newly developed grattage technique, as employed so effectively in the present work. His experimentations with ways of applying pigment onto the surface resulted in the discovery of frottage in 1925. Fascinated by the rich texture of the floorboards, he would place sheets of paper onto their surface and rub over them with graphite. This would result in various relief-like forms that suggested particular images to the artist, and with a few strokes added by hand he would arrive at fantastic, unexpected compositions.

Adapting this technique to the medium of oil painting, Ernst would cover the canvas with layers of paint and place it over an uneven surface or an object. He would then scrape the pigment off the surface, and complex patterns would emerge. Discussing this grattage technique, Werner Spies wrote: ‘Max Ernst laid his canvas over various objects with raised textures – pieces of wood and string, grates, textured glass panes – and, drawing the paint over them with a palette knife, brought forth the most vivid effects. In the course of the following years – years which William Rubin has called the ‘heroic epoch of Surrealist painting’ – this technique, known as grattage, led to astonishingly innovative imagery. The pictures became more abstract in effect, their formats larger. The dramatic force of these paintings, the richness of their scintillating colour, made them high points of imaginative Surrealist art in the late 1920s’ (W. Spies, Max Ernst. A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 148).

The first owner of this work was the famous Belgian collector René Gaffé, who was particularly close to the Surrealist circle and acquired the work directly from the artist. In 1938 the painting was given by Gaffé to his friends as a wedding present, and remained in the family of the recipient for many decades.



Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York