Lot 45
  • 45

Max Ernst

1,200,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • signed Max Ernst (upper left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 46 by 55cm.
  • 18 1/8 by 21 5/8 in.


Sale: Galerie Georges Giroux, Brussels, 25th March 1959, lot 74
Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London (sold: Sotheby’s, London, 3rd December 1985, lot 48)
Acquired by the present owner in the early 1990s


Brussels, Galerie le Centaure, Exposition Max Ernst, 1927
Brussels, Galerie l’Époque, 1928
Venice, XXVII Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, I maestri del surrealismo, 1954
New York, Museum of Modern Art & Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Max Ernst, 1961, no. 37, illustrated in the catalogue
London, Tate Gallery, Max Ernst, 1961, no. 78
London, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, Max Ernst – Etienne Cournault, 1962, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum & Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Max Ernst, 1963, no. 28, illustrated on the cover of the catalogue and on the poster
Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Idole und Dämonen, 1963, no. 43, illustrated in the catalogue
Kassel, Alte Galerie, Documenta III, 1964, no. 8, illustrated in the catalogue
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Labyrinthe Phantastische Kunst vom 16. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart, 1966, no. 203
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Ernst: Retrospektive, 1979, no. 145, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Arnold Herstand & Company, Max Ernst, fragments of capricorn and other sculpture, 1984
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, One Man’s Choice, 1985, no. 21


André de Ridder, Be levende Kunst geizen te Venetié, Brussels, 1958, vol. II, illustrated p. 280
Art News, New York, April 1961, no. 6, illustrated p. 43
Uwe M. Schneede, The Essential Max Ernst, London, 1972, no. 163, illustrated p. 93
Werner Spies, Sigrid & Günter Metken, Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog, Werke 1925-29, Cologne, 1976, no. 1126, illustrated p. 172

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1927, La Horde belongs to one of the most creative periods in Max Ernst’s œuvre, 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. These landscapes were brought to life in a series of canvases painted in 1927, including the present work, in which the trees are animated by surrealist spirits who dance and sway beneath the moon (fig. 1). 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).

In works such as La Horde, Ernst highlighted the visual possibilities of happenstance by connecting the accidental with conscious decision making. Writing on the subject of Ernst’s surrealist art, Herbert Read stated that ‘A human being drifts through time like an iceberg, only partly floating above the level of the consciousness. It is the aim of the Surréaliste, whether a painter or as poet, to try and realise some of the dimensions and characteristics of his submerged being, and to do this he resorts to various kinds of symbolism’ (H. Read, ‘Max Ernst, Œvres de 1919 à 1936’, in Cahiers d’Art, Paris, 1937, p. 104). Ernst’s treatment of the theme of the forest certainly shows his affinity for the German Romantics, as first pointed out in 1956 by his biographer Patrick Waldberg, who argued that Ernst’s link with his predecessors was not so much in the actual works, as in his attitude to life and the problems of creativity. In her essay Max Ernst and Romanticism Karin von Maur observed: ‘In the 1920s it is again not so much direct references to German Romanticism as a certain affinity of mood that is found in Max Ernst’s work. This is most apparent in the ‘Forest’ paintings, if for no other reason than that they have recourse to a motif with a long and rich tradition in Germany […] This tradition, replete with mystical meanings and tied to notions of German nationhood, had been appropriated by a wave of cloying, patriotic neo-Romantic painting, and it took an artist of Ernst’s unencumbered, Dadaist frame of mind to revive a motif so burdened with significance’ (K. von Maur, in Max Ernst. A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate, London, pp. 342-343).

The richly worked surface of La Horde exhibits all the techniques that the artist developed during this period. In the lower section Ernst used grattage to evoke the crumbling dampness of a forest-floor with gently decomposing detritus. Above this fertile base stands a struggling, writhing frieze of life. These anthropomorphic dancers are representative of the apparitions of Ernst’s childhood imagination and experience. In his autobiography he wrote of his ‘mixed feelings when he first went in to a forest: delight and oppression and what the Romantics called ‘emotion in the face of nature’. The wonderful joy of breathing freely in an open space, yet at the same time distress at being hemmed in on all sides by hostile trees. Inside and outside, free and captive, at one and the same time’ (quoted in John Russell, The Essential Max Ernst, London, 1972, p. 32).