Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale


Max Ernst
1891 - 1976
signed Max Ernst and dated 69 (lower right); signed Max Ernst, dated juillet 69 and titled on the reverse
oil on canvas
89 by 116cm., 35 by 45 5/8 in.
Painted in July 1969.
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Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris (by 1971)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above in 1972)
Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1990)
Private Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014


Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst, 1969, no. 106
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Max Ernst, 1969-70, no. 94
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Max Ernst, 1970, no. 116
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Max Ernst, 1971, no. XXXIX, illustrated in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Von Venus zu Venus, 1972, no. 29, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Max Ernst, 1974, no. 54, illustrated in the catalogue
Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art & Kobe, Museum of Modern Art Hyogo, Exhibitions of Works by Max Ernst, 1977, no. 127, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Klassische Moderne, 1981, no. 40, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Max Ernst, 1983, no. 130, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Max Ernst, 1985, no. 60, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Madrid, Fundació Juan March, Max Ernst, 1986, no. 72


Werner Spies, Die Rückkehr der schönen Gärtnerin, Max Ernst 1950-1970, Cologne, 1971, illustrated in colour p. 107
Gaston Diehl, Max Ernst, Paris, 1973, illustrated in colour on the back cover
Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, Textes de Max Ernst, Uwe M. Schneede, Patrick Waldberg, Diane Waldman, Paris, 1976, no. 487, illustrated in colour p. 390
Pere Gimferrer, Max Ernst ou la dissolution de l'identité, Paris, 1979, no. 154
Werner Spies, Sigrid & Günter Metken & Jürgen Pech, Max Ernst Werke 1964-69, Cologne, 2007, vol. VII, no. 4494, illustrated p. 327

Catalogue Note

By the 1960s, Max Ernst had secured a glowing critical and popular reputation in three countries simultaneously: France, Germany and America. He had been a pioneer of Surrealism from the 1920s, a radical art movement that pursued a revolution against the constraints of the rational mind; through his restive experimentation he also developed two new artistic techniques: grattage and frottage. Enfants jouant à l'astronaute, painted in 1969, is an exceptional example of the work of an artist at the height of his career, demonstrating Ernst's continued engagement with the themes and inventiveness that characterised his production throughout his life. 

The cosmos had long been a source of inspiration for the Surrealists and for Ernst in particular: 'When you walk through the woods keeping your eyes fixed on the ground, you will doubtless discover many wonderful, miraculous things. But when you suddenly look upwards into the sky, you are overcome by the revelation of another, equally miraculous world. Over the past century the significance of suns, moons, constellations, nebulae, galaxies and all of outer space beyond the terrestrial zone has increasingly entered human consciousness, as it has taken root in my own work and will very probably remain there' (quoted in Werner Spies (ed.), Max Ernst: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 10). It was in the 1960s, however, when it took root more than ever before. 

This was - in part at least - due to the dizzying advances being made in the USSR and America in what is known as the Space Race. The struggle for supremacy in space in the 1950s and 60s led to a quick succession of extraordinary accomplishments for man: in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the very first artificial satellite into Space; in 1961 Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin was the first person ever to journey into outer space and in 1969 the United States of America landed three astronauts on the moon. Ernst had lived in America during the 1940s, an experience which had given him particular insight into the nationalist culture and principles of the superpower. While space had always been a refuge for his fertile imagination as an artist and surrealist, in the 1960s it took on new relevance as a symbol of man's advancement in his heady pursuit of total sovereignty. Enfants jouant à l'astronaute, encapsulates the dual symbolism: reflecting the heroism associated with its practitioners - it was now that the purposeful child could first dream of becoming an astronaut - the present work also reduces man's naive rivalry to child's play.

Enfants jouant à l'astronaute is a remarkable work that reveals an artist looking back on his successes through the prism of a very particular contemporary environment. Its vibrant palette and stark arrangement of figures, evokes Ernst's landscape paintings, while the central element suggestive of a bird's head conjures the artist's avian alter-ego Loplop. However the deployment of these particular motifs is driven by a new cultural force and the symbols of Ernst's personal visual language take on new relevance. Ever a surrealist, Ernst gives expression to the unconscious.

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale