Lot 386
  • 386

MAX ERNST | La Forêt

180,000 - 250,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • La Forêt 
  • Signed max ernst (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 21 3/4 by 18 1/8 in.
  • 55 by 46 cm
  • Painted in 1925.


Marie Cuttoli, Paris
Galerie de l'Île-de-France, Paris (acquired by 1972)
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, Paris
Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above and sold: Christie's, New York, May 9, 2013, lot 322)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Caen, Maison de la culture, Mars autour du Surréalisme, 1965, n.n.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Collection Marie Cuttoli, Henri Laugier, 1970, no. 24 (dated 1926)
Krefeld, Krefelder Kunstverein, Max Ernst, Frottagen und Collagen, 1972, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue
Rome, Museo del Corso, Max Ernst e i suoi amici surrealisti, 2002, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue
La Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza, Surrealismo, Max Ernst y sus amigos surrealistas, 2004, illustrated in the catalogue (dated 1926)


Surrealismo (exhibition catalogue), Levi Arte Moderna, Milan, 1974, no. 13, illustrated in color n.p.
Werner Spies, Sigrid & Günter Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1925-1929, Cologne, 1976, no. 931, illustrated p. 72
Suzanne Slesin, Over the Top, Helena Rubenstein, Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion, and Design, New York, 2003, illustrated in situ p. 167


This work is in excellent original condition. The canvas is unlined. There are artist's pinholes in all four corners. Under UV light: no inpainting is apparent.
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

Painted in 1925, La Forêt belongs to one of the most creative periods in Max Ernst’s oeuvre, marked by a constant stream of technical experimentation and invention. It was during these years that the artist established his visual universe of themes and images that were to become central to his entire career. One of Ernst’s key subjects was the forest, and it was in the series of Forêt paintings of the 1920s that Ernst first explored his newly developed grattage technique. His experimentation with the application of pigment onto the surface had resulted in the discovery of frottage earlier in the year: fascinated by the rich texture of floorboards, Ernst would place sheets of paper onto their surface and rub over them with graphite. This would result in various relief-like forms that suggested particular images to the artist, and with a few strokes added by hand he would arrive at fantastic and unexpected compositions.

Using the same formal principles as frottage, Ernst created the grattage technique utilizing oil and canvas. Werner Spies explains, “Adapting this technique to the medium of oil painting, Ernst would cover the canvas with layers of paint and place it over an uneven surface or an object. He would then scrape the pigment off the surface, and complex patterns would emerge. Spies further elucidates how Ernst would lay “his canvas over various objects with raised textures—pieces of wood and string, grates, textured glass panes—and, drawing the paint over them with a palette knife, brought forth the most vivid effects. In the course of the following years—years which William Rubin has called the ‘heroic epoch of Surrealist painting’—this technique, known as grattage, led to astonishingly innovative imagery” (Werner Spies, Max Ernst: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 148).

This early treatment of wood evokes Ernst’s childhood in Brühl near the expansive Kottenforst while also expressing an affinity for the German Romantics. In 1956 Ernst’s biographer Patrick Waldberg first argued that the artist’s link with his predecessors was not so much in the actual work as it was in his attitude toward life and the problems of creativity. Scholar Karin von Maur observes how “in the 1920s it is again not so much direct references to German Romanticism as a certain affinity of mood that is found in Max Ernst’s work. This is most apparent in the ‘Forest’ paintings, if for no other reason than that they have recourse to a motif with a long and rich tradition in Germany…This tradition, replete with mystical meanings and tied to notions of German nationhood, had been appropriated by a wave of cloying, patriotic neo-Romantic painting, and it took an artist of Ernst’s unencumbered, Dadaist frame of mind to revive a motif so burdened with significance” (Karin von Maur, ”Max Ernst and Romanticism," in Max Ernst: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, pp. 342-43).