Lot 43
  • 43

MAX ERNST | Portrait de Joan Miró, Peintre bénit

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Max Ernst
  • Portrait de Joan Miró, Peintre bénit
  • signed Max Ernst and dated 48 (lower right); signed Max Ernst, dated 48 and inscribed Portrait de J.M. peintre bénit on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 76 by 40.6cm.
  • 29 7/8 by 16in.
  • Painted in 1948.


M. Knoedler & Co., New York (acquired in 1948; until at least 1976) Albert Loeb Gallery, New York

Galleria Notizie, Turin

Galleria Gissi, Turin

Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner in the 1970s


New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Max Ernst, 1948, no. 22 Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Max Ernst, 1950, no. 40

Turin, Galleria Gissi, Maestri stranieri, 1970


Cahiers d’Art, no. 24, Paris, 1949, illustrated p. 292 John Russell, Max Ernst. Life and Work, London, 1967, no. 82, illustrated

Hommage à Max Ernst. Numéro spécial de la revue XXe siècle, Paris, 1971, illustrated in colour p. 113

Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, Paris, 1976, no. 306, illustrated in colour p. 257

Günter Metken, ‘Sich die Kunst vom Leib halten. Loplop, die Staffeleifigur Max Ernsts’, in Pantheon, Year XXXVI, no. II, Munich, April-June 1978, illustrated p. 148

Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Œuvre-Katalog. Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2582, illustrated p. 148

Catalogue Note

In 1947-48 Ernst embarked on a small group of portraits that are now celebrated for their inventive use of semi-abstracted forms and vivid colouration. The most important of these are the three depicting his closest contemporaries – Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta (playfully titled Mattamathics) and Joan Miró – and providing a powerful testament to the enduring relationships between these artists. Miró and Ernst had met in Paris in the 1920s and they quickly became good friends, collaborating on a number of projects, including the designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s 1926 production of Romeo and Juliet. Uwe M. Schneede has argued for a close bond of mutual influence and exchange between the artists, suggesting that ‘the figure of Loplop was inspired by Miró, who from 1925 was working on a similar theme’ (U. M. Schneede, quoted in Edward Quinn, Max Ernst, Paris, 1976, p. 256, translated from French). Certainly both artists would pursue an artistic vision in which particular motifs were transformed into general signifiers for wider themes, and in both cases the figure of the bird would prove to be of emblematic importance. Ernst’s admiration for his fellow-artist is evident in the full title of the work, peintre bénit or ‘blessed painter’, and in his wonderful, whimsical evocation of Miró’s painting in the upper left of the composition. The fact that Ernst chose to copy the design of a painting that Miró had given him in 1939 (fig. 1) only adds to the playful and deeply personal nature of this work. 

These portraits are also important in providing an insight into Ernst’s changing practice in the late 1940s; increasingly abstract and characterised by brightly coloured geometric planes, they reveal a new range of influences. In 1946 he had purchased a plot of land in the desert town of Sedona in Arizona and he settled there with the artist Dorothea Tanning who he married the same year. Like many of his contemporaries, Ernst had long been interested in examples of Native American artwork and the move to Sedona reignited his enthusiasm and it became an increasingly important part of his creative process.

Discussing this series, Sigrid Metken explains the importance of this influence: ‘The artist’s great series of portraits of 1947/48 would also have been inconceivable without his sensitivity to non-European, Oceanic and, above all, North American Indian art. The same emblematic approach that led Kiwa artists in Kuaua on the Rio Grande (Coronado State Monument) to depict their strictly frontal figures of gods with visors, ceremonial headdresses or huge fish heads, prompted Max Ernst to render Matta, Miró or Tanguy, a young girl, a man or the gods, in ambiguous masks that emphasise their vacillating natures’ (S. Metken in Max Ernst (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, pp. 359-360). This influence can also be seen in the sculpture that Ernst was working on contemporaneously (fig. 2) which shares the simplicity and grandeur that he recognised in Native American art.

However, as throughout his career, Ernst was responding not to one, but to myriad influences in the paintings of this period. As Ludger Derenthal suggests: ‘Stereometric objects used to illustrate algebraic equations lying on dusty shelves of the Parisian Institut Henri Poincaré formed the starting point of a series of paintings made in Sedona. Max Ernst had directed Man Ray’s attention to them in 1936 and suggested that he photograph them. In 1947, Man Ray, who was now living in Hollywood, brought a batch of photographs with him from a trip to Paris. For him as well as for Max Ernst they became the starting point for an entire series of oil paintings’ (L. Derenthal in Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution (exhibition catalogue), Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2008-09, p. 177). This influence is evident in the precise lines and shapes of Portrait de Joan Miró and provides a striking counterpoint to the plastic fluidity with which he paints the artist’s hands – doubtless an allusion to Miró’s technical acuity and a sign of the respect Ernst felt for his fellow artist.