Lot 4
  • 4

Max Ernst

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Max Ernst
  • Le Roi jouant avec la reine
  • Inscribed max ernst and numbered 
  • Bronze
  • Height: 38 1/2 in.
  • 97.8 cm


Jean & Dominique De Menil, Houston

Acquired from the above circa 1973


Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst, Målningar, collage, frottage, techningar grafik, böcker, sculpturer, 1917-1969, 1969, no. 210, illustrated in the catalogue

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Max Ernst, 1969-70, no. 155, illustrated in the catalogue

Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Max Ernst, Gemälde, Plastiken, Collagen, Frottagen, Bücher, 1970, no. 214, illustrated in the catalogue 

Hamburg, Kunsthalle; Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Frankfurt, Fraknfurter Kunstverein; Berlin, Akademie der Künste; Cologne, Kunsthalle; Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries; Marseille, Musée Cantini; Grenoble, Maison de la Culture; Strasbourg, Ancienne Douane & Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Ausstellung Max Ernst "Das innere Gesicht"/Max Ernst "A l'intérieur de la vue,1970-73, no. 92, illustrated in the catalogue (with the incorrect inscription J)

New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Max Ernst Retrospective, 1975, no. 208, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Grand Palais, Max Ernst, 1975, no. 249, illustrated in the catalogue


Max Ernst, Beyond Painting and Other Writings about the Artists and His Friends, New York, 1948, illustration of the plaster p. 79

Carola Giedion-Welcker, Contemporary Sculpture, An Evolution in Volume and Space, New York, 1955, illustration of another cast p. 244

Patrick Waldberg, Max Ernst, Paris, 1958, illustration of another cast p. 409

Fernand Hazan, Dictionnaire de la Sculpture Moderne, Paris, 1960, illustration of another cast p. 88 (titled Le Roi jouant aux échecs avec sa reine)

Max Ernst, Oeuvre Sculpté 1913-1961 (exhibition catalogue), Le Point Cardinal, Paris, 1961, illustration of another cast n.p. 

Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York & The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1961, illustration of another cast p. 50

John Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, New York, 1967, illustration of another cast n.p. & cited p. 348

Fred Licht, Sculpture, 19th and 20th Centuries, London, 1967, no. 285, illustration of another cast n.p. 

Uwe M. Schneede, Max Ernst, Stuttgart, 1972, illustrated p. 182 

Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, New York, 1977, illustration of another cast p. 240

Albert E. Elsen, Modern European Sculpture, 1918-1945, Unknown Beings and Other Realities, New York, 1979, discussed p. 44

Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Glenbow Museum, Calgary, 1979, illustration of another cast p. 35

Max Ernst, Retrospective (exhibiton catalogue), Haus der Kunst, Munich & Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1979, illustration of another cast p. 319

Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Loplop, Die Selbstdarstellung des Künstlers, Munich, 1982, illustration of another cast p. 173

Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence1983, illustration of another cast p. 157

"Primitivism" in 20th Century Art, Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit & Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 1984-85, illustration of another cast p. 568

Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken & Günter Metken, Max Ernst, Oeuvre-Katalog: Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2465.I, illustration of another cast p. 86 & illustration of the plaster p. 85

Max Ernst, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart & Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 1991, illustration of another cast p. 255

Max Ernst: The Sculpture (exhibition catalogue), Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach; University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley & Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1992-93, illustration of another cast n.p.

Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Sculpture, Maisons, Paysages (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris & Kunstsammlung Nordheim-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 1998, illustration of another cast p. 137 & of the plaster p. 135

Jürgen Pech, Max Ernst, The King Playing with the Queen, Berlin, 2002, illustrations of another cast on the cover & pp. 9, 15, 27, 33, 35, 39, 41-43, 46, 49, 53 & 57-58; illustration of the plaster p. 30; this cast discussed p. 34 

Max Ernst, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, illustration of another cast in color p. 250

Albstraum und Befreiung, Max Ernst in der Sammlung Würth (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle Würth, Künzelsau & Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, 2009-10, illustration in color of another cast p. 16

Max Ernst: Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Albertina, Vienna & Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, 2013, illustration in color of another cast and of the plaster pp. 300-01

Max Ernst, Paraymyths: Sculpture, 1934-1967 (exhibition catalogue), Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, 2015, illustration of another cast p. 88

Catalogue Note

Le Roi jouant avec la reine is Max Ernst's masterpiece in sculpture. Belonging to a small group of sculptures that Ernst conceived in 1944, Le Roi jouant avec la reine is one of the artist’s most powerful and compelling plastic works and illustrates his visionary approach to the medium. The power of this work lies in the contrast in scale between the oneiric, god-like figure of the King who rises out of the chessboard and the smaller figure of the queen who sits within his embrace. Discussing the sculptures of this period Carola Giedion-Welcker wrote: “the best among them is the spectacular composition Le Roi jouant avec la reine (1944), with its contrasting alternation of smoothly supple, tactile volumes and encircled expanses of air, combining to produce an impression of suggestive lightness and spatial tension” (C. Giedion-Welcker, quoted in Max Ernst. Sculptures, maisons, paysages (exhibition catalogue), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, p. 154, translated from French).

This dynamism is an essential element of Ernst’s anthropomorphic reimagining of chess pieces in the work. The Surrealist preoccupation with chess stemmed from more than a mere enjoyment of the game; rather, chess was particularly suitable as a means of exploring Surrealist preoccupations. Visually it lent itself to a Surrealist involvement, but more importantly, it could function metaphorically as an alternative reality. For artists who had lived through the First World War, it offered a different battleground and a means of transcribing violence in more civilized terms. The practicalities of the game – the paradox between individual thought and proscribed movement – mirrored their own interest in automatism and the unconscious mind but the patterns of play were also suggestive of other realms and multiple endings. A keen player, Ernst was particularly receptive to these artistic possibilities, using them to great effect in the present work. Just as the beauty of the game lies not in the pieces but in their movement, in Le Roi jouant avec la reine the power of the sculpture is not in its constituent parts but in the suggestive fluidity of their orchestration.

The sculpture was originally conceived in the summer of 1944 while Ernst and Dorothea Tanning were holidaying in Great River, Long Island. Ernst presented the plaster version to his friend Robert Motherwell, who was also staying nearby, as Motherwell recalled: “Max Ernst made some haunting sculpture in white plaster, including The King Playing with the Queen. Angry at its general rejection, and moved by my admiration, he gave me The King … on the spot. I barely managed to get it into my little Nash convertible” (quoted in H. H. Arnason & Dore Ashton, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1982, p. 106). In 1953 Jean and Dominique de Menil arranged for the work to be cast in bronze by the Modern Art Foundry and Ernst arranged for Motherwell to receive a bronze cast as an acknowledgement of his safekeeping of the plaster and in testament to the friendship between the two artists.