- Max Ernst
- Messaline enfant
- Signed and dated max ernst 57 (lower right); signed, titled and dated 1957 on the reverse
- Oil on canvas
Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York
William N. Copley, New York
Barnet Hodes, Chicago
Sale: Sotheby's, London, December 2, 1986, lot 77
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York
Sale: Sotheby's, London, February 4, 2003, lot 42
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Alexander Iolas Gallery, 1957
Kassel, Documenta II, 1959, no. 5 (in the Paintings Catalogue)
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Max Ernst, 1959, no. 85
Patrick Waldberg, Max Ernst, Paris, 1958, illustrated p. 423
Shuzo Takiguchi, Max Ernst, Tokyo, 1960, illustrated p. 57
Georges Bataille, Les Larmes d'Eros, Paris, 1964, p. 193
John Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, New York, 1967, no. 108, illustrated p. 347
Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, Paris, 1976, no. 365, illustrated p. 295
Werner Spies, Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3278, illustrated p. 120
Messaline enfant was painted in Sedona, Arizona where Max Ernst spent the winter of 1956-57 with Dorothea Tanning. Emerging from the dappled brilliance of the red, orange and yellow surface of the canvas are the ecstatic figures of a mother and child. These are not anonymous symbols of maternity, however, as the title of the painting derives from the name of the Roman Empress Messalina, wife of Claudius, who was notorious for her cruelty and sexual appetite.
Werner Spies has observed that “before the war interest centered mainly on [Ernst’s] activity as an iconographer, the creator of a tightly enciphered image. During the years that have elapsed since the war another aspect of his artistic personality has come to the fore: he now considers the textures employed in his pictures not merely as a mode of representation but as the content of that representation. These textures first appear in the frottages of 1925 and in the grattages that followed hard upon their heels” (Werner Spies, The Return of La Belle Jardiniere Max Ernst 1950-1970, New York, 1971, p. 62).
Parisian painting of the 1950s certainly had some impact on the more painterly style he favored after returning to Europe but the bravura effects of his brushwork frequently conceal reminiscences of the nightmare apparitions characteristic of his work prior to the outbreak of World War II. In a discussion of Ernst’s works of this period, John Russell observed that “it would be an impudence to see them merely in terms of their decorative qualities, great as those may be. They follow upon a run of smaller works in which Max Ernst turned now to his private demonology, now to subject-matter that was distinctly more benign. Sometimes the two got mixed: a painting like Messalina as a Child of 1957 is as delectable in color as it is sinister in its implications” (John Russell, Max Ernst, New York, 1967, pp. 170, 173).