Details & Cataloguing

Surrealist Art


Max Ernst
1891 - 1976
signed Max Ernst and dated 27 (lower right)
oil on paper laid down on panel
28 by 38cm.
11 by 15in.
 Painted in 1927.
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Galerie Michel Grilichess, Paris
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 27th March 1985, lot 165
Artcurial, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection, Japan
Private Collection


Paris, Artcurial, L'Aventure surréaliste autour d'André Breton, 1986, no. 163, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, Carosso Fine Arts, Max Ernst, A Natural History of the Mind, 2003, no. 4, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Max Ernst, 2003, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Geneva, Galerie Interart, Aperçu surréaliste, 2007


Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Œuvre-Katalog, Werke 1925-1929, Cologne, 1976, no. 1140, illustrated p. 180 (with incorrect medium)

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1927, La forêt pétrifiée 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. 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).

Surrealist Art