Lot 117
  • 117

Max Ernst

600,000 - 800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • Ohne Titel (Untitled)
  • Signed max ernst (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 13 1/8 by 15 in.
  • 33.2 by 38.1 cm


Charles Goldman (Goldman Foundation), New York (and sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, April 11, 1962, lot 93)
Acquired at the above sale


Werner Spies & Sigrid & Günter Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2501, illustrated p. 110

Catalogue Note

The present work is one of Ernst's celebrated post-war paintings that features a jewel-like palette and elements of his new found surroundings in Sedona, Arizona. The bird appears as a trompe l'oeil in the center of the composition, surrounded by the intricate markings of Ernst's preferred painterly technique. The fantastic quality and the opulence of color Ernst witnessed in the mountains and deserts of the American West during the 1940s and early 1950s made a strong impression on him that carried over into his art. The works that he completed during these years evidence the artist's renewed optimism triggered by Europe's post-war recovery, and the present work can be interpreted in this spirit.

In this richly colorful composition, Ernst employed the technique of grattage that he had created during the early days of the Surrealist movement. This process is most evident near the sharp edges delineating where the palette knife had smoothed and scraped the wet paint, sometimes revealing a darker color beneath the top layer of pigment. As is the case for the present work, Ernst's paintings of the post-war era 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" (Werner Spies, Max Ernst, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 252).

As Gisela Fischer further notes: “Like aquatic worlds, these fantastic unreal landscapes seem to bring deceased life to light. Are the anthropomorphic cypresses and gnarled vegetation offering hiding places to the exotic figures and animal heads, or are the latter in fact growing, metamorphosis-like, from out of the plants? It seems we are observing the decay of life while at the same time witnessing the emergence of a new world peeling itself out to the past. Ernst’s European pictures concentrate on destruction and violence, and the works he made in exile likewise exude discomfort and uncertainty, but they are nevertheless utopian: mysterious landscapes extending off into the distance, illuminating the hope for a better future” (Werner Spies &  Julia Drost, eds., Ernst Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Albertina, Vienna & Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2013, p. 259).