Lot 39
  • 39

Max Ernst

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
962,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • Creatures of the swamp
  • Signed max ernst and dated 45 (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas


Jimmy Ernst, New Canaan

Galleria Galatea, Turin

Francesco Grosso, Turin

Sale: Christie's, London, February 4, 2002, lot 81

Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Oeuvre-Katalog, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2476, illustrated p. 96

Catalogue Note

Creatures of the Swamp belongs to a highly important period in Ernst’s career, when his painting reached a crescendo of Surrealist fantasy, with dark forests and fantastical creatures populating his compositions.  This phase of Ersnt’s œuvre was dominating by the technique of decalcomania, explored in the present work to a powerful effect.  Invented by Oscar Dominguez in 1935, this process immediately became as important a Surrealist technique as automatic writing, collage, frottage and grattage.  The technique of decalcomania consists of covering the canvas with a layer of pigment and then pressing onto it with a smooth surface such as glass.  A rich surface pattern that emerges as a result has the appearance of corals, rocks or imaginary creatures.  ‘Decalcomania was what might be termed an intersubjective method, comparable to the automatic writing, the dream protocols and the cadavres exquis of the late 1920s.  Yet with Max Ernst, the game led to a marvellous expansion of his visionary world […] employed with great sophistication and supplemented by interpretative additions by hand’ (Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 230).

The Surrealists, including Max Ernst, instantly found inspiration in this new process.  In Creatures of the Swamp, this technique has resulted in a dreamlike, otherworldly composition dominated by plants and fantastical creatures.  The unidentifiable organisms that occupy all corners of the canvas appear to be moving and metamorphosing in front of the viewer, and, like the forest theme of the 1920s, this subject can be interpreted as Ernst’s exploration of the unconscious. The dark, nightmarish tone of the depicted world, lying beyond civilization as we know it, is certainly a reflection of the artist's state of mind at the end of the Second World War, which saw him in exile in the United States at the time this work was executed.