Lot 48
  • 48

Max Ernst

160,000 - 220,000 GBP
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  • Max Ernst
  • But in Color
  • signed Max Ernst and dated 62 (lower right)
  • oil on panel
  • 27.2 by 35.2cm.
  • 10 3/4 by 13 7/8 in.


Dominique de Menil, Houston (acquired from the artist)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Hamburg, Kunsthalle; Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Frankfurt, 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; Houston, Rice Museum; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts; Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts & Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Max Ernst, Das innere Gesicht / A l'Intérieur de la vue / Inside the Sight, 1970-74, no. 80, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Œuvre-Katalog, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3613, illustrated p. 292

Robert McNab, Ghost Ships: A Surrealist Love Triangle, New Haven & London, 2004, fig. 56, illustrated in colour p. 129

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1962, But in color is a striking example of the way in which Ernst combined accidental abstraction with detailed naturalism, a dialogue that fascinated him from the early days of his career. This phase of Ernst’s œuvre was dominated by the technique of decalcomania, beautifully explored in the present work. Werner Spies described it as a method ‘which involves the spreading of paint on a sheet laying a second sheet on top of the first, pressing it in places and then lifting it up to leave suggestive images […]. They represent no known world but rather seem to devour one another and evolve in an endless metamorphosis, evoking some vegetal or cosmic process’ (W. Spies in Max Ernst: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, pp. 13-14),

Invented by Oscar Domínguez in 1935, this process immediately became as important a Surrealist technique as automatic writing, collage, frottage and grattage. A rich surface pattern that emerges as a result has the appearance of corals, rocks or imaginary creatures. In the present work, the central area executed using decalcomania has the appearance of a mountainous landscape, and is set against a bright orange sky illuminated by the sun, and a foreground that can be interpreted as sand dunes or a river. The entire scene is bathed in the warm glow of the sun, giving the composition a magical, otherworldly atmosphere. Jürgen Pech wrote about Ernst’s paintings from this period: ‘In his romantic late work, Max Ernst is concerned with the forces of nature and life. The cosmic pictorial worlds approach the faraway, the infinity of the space. Landscapes are combined with ideas. With much joy in seeing, Max Ernst presents seemingly simple and yet complex galaxies, potential or parallel worlds beyond our imagination’ (J. Pech in Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution (exhibition catalogue), Moderna Museet, Stockholm & Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, 2008-09, p. 191).

But in color comes from the esteemed collection of Dominique de Menil (1908-1997), the French-American art collector, patron and philanthropist. Dominique de Menil (née Schlumberger) was born in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne. Following the Occupation she and her husband John left France for the United States, and settled in Houston. Dominique and John de Menil began building their collection with a purchase of a Cézanne watercolour in 1945, and soon turned over to their greatest passion – Surrealism and Cubism, as well as post-war American art. They formed friendships with many artists whose works they collected, including Ernst, Brauner, Magritte, Rauschenberg and Warhol. They helped organise Ernst’s first solo exhibition in the United States. A large part of their collection is today housed in the celebrated Menil Collection and the adjacent Rothko Chapel in Houston.