Lot 59
  • 59

Max Ernst

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • signed Max Ernst and dated 61 (lower right); signed, titled and dated 1960-61 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 97 by 130cm.
  • 38 1/8 by 51 1/8 in.


Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York
Thomas Claburn Jones Jr., New York
Jean de Ménil, Houston (before 1966)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired by 1974)
Acquired by the present owner circa 1975


New York, The Jewish Museum, Max Ernst: Sculpture and Recent Painting, 1966, no. 23, illustrated in the catalogue
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Max Ernst, Oltre la pittura, 1966, no. 27
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst, 1969, no. 90
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Max Ernst, 1974, no. 44, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle & Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Surrealität - Bildrealität 1924-1974, 1974-75, no. 68


XXe siècle, Paris, May 1964, no. 23, illustrated in colour
Alexander Watt, 'Conversation with Max Ernst', in Art in America, New York, 1966, vol. I, illustrated p. 93
John Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, London, 1966, no. 118, catalogued p. 348 and illustrated pl. 118
'Hommage à Max Ernst', in XXe siècle, Paris, 1971, illustrated in colour p. 63
Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, Paris, 1976, no. 405, illustrated p. 329
10 x Max Ernst. Eine didaktische Ausstellung zum Verständnis seiner Kunst (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 1978-79, illustrated p. 61
Werner Spies, Max Ernst. OEuvre-Katalog, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3567, illustrated p. 269

Catalogue Note

In this monumental work, Ernst presents a highly abstracted vision of a landscape evaporating into a kaleidoscopic haze. Ernst had returned to Paris from America in the early 1950s with a renewed optimism triggered by Europe's post-war recovery, and the present work can be interpreted in this spirit. When he painted Le XXe siècle in 1960-61, Ernst employed the technique of grattage that he had created during the early days of the Surrealist movement. But now his paintings exhibited a stylistic duality of composition and disintegration - a suitable metaphor for the times.  According to Werner Spies, his mood during this period 'was an ambivalent one, which [Ernst] paraphrased as follows: "From 'The Age of Anxiety' to 'The Childhood of Art' only half a rotation of the orthochromatic wheel is required. Between the Massacre of the Innocents and Stepping Through the Looking-Glass lies an interval merely of one luminous night." ... Ernst remained true to his early decision to strive for a symbolic painting in which open questions, and hence the unfathomable obscurity of existence, took precedence over simplistic positivist explanations and definitive stylistic results' (W. Spies, Max Ernst, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), London, 1991, p. 252).

This painting relates to an earlier version of the same subject from 1955 (fig. 1), around the time the artist settled down in France after an intermittent, decade-long hiatus in Arizona with Dorothea Lang. The fantastic quality and the opulence of colour Ernst witnessed in the mountains and deserts of the American West during the 1940s and early 1950s made a strong impression on him, and he continued to incorporate the aesthetic of desert moonrises and sunsets in the compositions completed after he returned to France.   

Grattage was first developed by Ernst in the mid-1920s as a painterly response to the Surrealist concept of automatism. Grattage is a development in oil paint of frottage, the technique Ernst first employed in pencil and paper: 'One rainy day in 1925 Ernst was first inspired to explore the possibilities of frottage by the look of the grooves in the well-scrubbed floor of his hotel room at the seashore in Pornic. Attracted by the open structure of the grain, he rubbed it, using paper and pencil, and then reinterpreted the results. As he developed the procedure, he used a variety of new elements to start with - stale bread crumbs, grained leather, striated glassware, a straw hat, twine - always transforming the results so that whatever lay beneath his paper experienced a metamorphosis. The characteristics of these objects got lost in the process. Unrefined textures turned into more precise shapes. The grain of wood became the tossing surface of the sea, the scaly pattern of the weave of a straw hat became a cypress tree, the texture of twine became another kind of grain even a horse. At first Ernst carried out his rubbings with paper and pencil. Soon, however, he began to explore new effects obtained by pursuing grattage, a variant of frottage executed in the medium of painting. In grattage, objects are placed beneath a surface covered with a thin layer of pigment, which the artist scrapes away with a spatula or palette knife... these works are sensual and tactile, with images of rubbed objects that appear as ghostly traces of form' (W. Spies, 'Nightmare and Deliverence' in Max Ernst: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), New York, 2005, pp. 12-13).


This work has been requested for the exhibition Max Ernst, Dream and Revolution: A Retrospective, to be held at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk from September 2008 until February 2009.