Lot 313
  • 313

Max Ernst

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • Max Ernst
  • Les Asperges de la lune
  • Inscribed max ernst, numbered III/VI and stamped with the foundry mark Susse Fondeur Paris 
  • Bronze
  • Height: 64 1/4 in.
  • 162.5 cm


Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Lady Hulton, London
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Acquired from the above on March 26, 1990


Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Das Stilleben im 20.Jahrhundert, 1978-79, no. 35, illustrated in the catalogue
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Skulptur im 20.Jahrhundert, 1984, no. 94, illustrated in the catalogue 


Cahiers d'art, ed., Max Ernst, Oeuvres de 1919 à 1936, Paris, 1937, illustration of the plaster p. 89 
Album surréaliste. Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme (exhibition catalogue), Nippon Salon, Tokyo, 1937, no. 43, illustration of the plaster n.p.
Alfred Barr, Painting and Sculpture in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, illustration of the plaster p. 292 
Robert Motherwell, ed., Max Ernst, Beyond Painting and the other Writings by the Artist and his Friends, The Documents of Modern Art, New York, 1948, illustration of the plaster p. 85 
Max Ernst: Oeuvre sculpté, 1913-1962, Paris, 1961, no. 17, illustration of the plaster n.p.
Lucy R. Lippard, "Max Ernst and a sculpture of fantasy" in Art International, 1967, illustration of the plaster p. 39 
John Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, London, 1967, no. 125, illustration of the plaster p. 328
William S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York, 1968, illustration of the plaster p. 246
Max Ernst: A Retrospective 
(exhibition catalogue), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1975, no. 173, illustration of another cast p. 174
H. Harvard Arnason, History of Modern Art. Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, New York, 1971, illustration of the plaster p. 397
Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken & Günter Metken, Max Ernst, Oeuvre-Katalog: Werke 1929-1938, Cologne, 1979, no. 2161.I, illustration of the plaster & another cast p. 310
Max Ernst, Retrospektive 1979 (exhibition catalogue), Haus der Kunst, Munich, 1979, no. 230, illustration of another cast p. 302
Bildhauertechniken, Dimensionen des Plastischen (exhibition catalogue), Neue Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, 1981, no. 48, illustration of another cast n.p.
Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Maeght, Saint Paul de Vence, 1983, no. 59, illustration of another cast p. 158
Max Ernst Sculpture, 1934-1974 (exhibition catalogue), Cavaliero Fine Art, New York, 1987, no. 8, illustration of another cast p. 9
Max Ernst, A retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, no. 183, illustration of another cast p. 379 
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, no. 8, illustration of another cast n.p. 
Max Ernst, Sculpture—Sculptures (exhibition catalogue), Castello di Rivoli, Milan, 1996, illustration of another cast p. 134
Max Ernst, Sculptures, maisons, paysages (exhibition catalogue), Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, no. 59, illustration of another cast p. 110 & of the plaster pp. 108-09
Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris, 2003, illustration of another cast p. 151


Please contact the Impressionist & Modern Art department directly for a condition report prepared by Wilson Conservation.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

At the height of the Surrealist movement in 1934, Max Ernst traveled to Switzerland, where the exhibition Was is Surrealismus was held that summer at the Zurich Kunsthaus. While in Zurich, Ernst became inspired by the sculptures of Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti, the latter of whom he spent extended time with in the Swiss village of Maloja. Prior to this sojourn in the Alps, Ernst’s artistic output had been limited primarily to two-dimensional work, though his innovative experimentations with frottage (see fig. 2), grattage and collages proved groundbreaking for the development of Dadaism and Surrealism. In Maloja, he began his foray into sculpture by incising and decorating stones that he and Giacometti found in the riverbed. After returning to Paris later that year, Ernst began to experiment with sculpture in earnest and Les Asperges de la lune was one of approximately nine major freestanding works he conceived in the years following the trip to Switzerland. The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the original plaster of the present work in 1937 and it was later cast in bronze at the artist's request, some examples of which were painted white to recall the surface of the original plaster. The hybridization of bestial and vegetal forms found in Les Asperges de la lune exemplifies a central principle of Surrealism—the juxtaposition of two contradictory states to jolt the viewer's consciousness. The life-sized, spindly “asparagus” stalks are personified at their peaks with playful, stylized “lunar” faces. In a technique that recalls his earlier Dada days, Ernst incorporated found objects into this work, namely the eyes of the figure on the right, which are composed of pebbles acquired from fellow artist Roland Penrose. Penrose recalled Ernst’s immediate fascination with the pebbles when Penrose brought them back from a trip to Egypt, "Polished by the sand, spherical in shape like a cherry stone, it was encircled by horns like the crescent of the new moon. On my return to Paris Max Ernst seized upon it as a surrealist object of significance and putting it in a plush jeweler's box he kept it beside him or exhibited it as a rare treasure trove among his paintings" (quoted in Max Ernst Sculpture—Sculpture (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 67).

The present work also contains a subtext of erotic symbolism which characterized the Surrealists’ Freudian interest in the subconscious. Heavily influenced by the psychoanalytic scholarship of the early twentieth century, Surrealists believed that art ought to be liberated from the conscious human mind and detached from reason, logic and rigid social conventions and norms. Sigmund Freud, in particular, wrote extensively on the innate sexual energy possessed by all human beings and the suppression of libido in the human subconscious. In this sculpture, the phallic forms of the stalks, the breast-like forms of the eyes of the right-hand figure and the vaginal shape of the face of the left-hand figure can all be interpreted as anatomical allusions in an erotic Surrealist vocabulary.

In addition to the influence of new research in psychiatry, the influx of iconographically imaginative works of art from remote indigenous cultures of Oceania into the Parisian artistic avant-garde during the twenties and thirties also served as sources of inspiration for Ernst. Carved out of natural materials and often employed in deeply spiritual ceremonies within their native contexts, these Oceanic objects possessed an aura of mystique that spoke to Surrealist sensibilities. Les Asperges de la lune bears a striking formal affinity to a sculpture depicting a pair of human figures rising out of the same base from the mystical Lake Sentani region, situated on the north coast of the island of New Guinea (see fig. 3). Now in the collection of National Gallery of Australia, the Lake Sentani double figure—nicknamed Le Lys—originally sat on top of a house post that supported a wooden dwelling that jut into the lake. Surrealist poet Jacques Viot brought back Le Lys, along with many other related sculptures during his trip to the Lake Sentani region in 1929. As Viot acted as a dealer for Ernst, it is highly likely that the Ernst would have seen the sculpture himself and been directly inspired by it. Le Lys' Surrealist appeal also prompted Man Ray to make several photographs of it and the sculpture eventually entered Jacob Epstein's prodigious African and Oceanic collection.

Cast in bronze in an edition of 8 decades after its conception, Les Asperges de la lune is a fantastical sculptural tour-de-force and one of the earliest examples of Surrealism manifested in the round. Ernst, who was one of few Surrealists to embrace the sculptural medium (see fig. 4), successfully transposes the movement’s desire to shock the viewer, defy logic and embrace the absurd, all with the quintessentially Surrealist sense of humor that defines his oeuvre.

Dr. Jürgen Pech has confirmed the authenticity of this work.