Lot 34
  • 34

MAX ERNST | La horde

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Max Ernst
  • La horde
  • signed Max Ernst (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 by 32.8cm.
  • 16 1/8 by 12 7/8 in.
  • Painted in 1927.


Mrs M.A. Wright (sold by her estate: Sotheby's, London, 7th December 1966, lot 119) Collection S. Tarica, Geneva (purchased at the above sale)

Sale: Guy Loudmer, Paris, 17th November 1991, lot 42

Private Collection, Switzerland

Acquired by the present owner in 2014


Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Œuvre-Katalog, 1925-1929, Cologne, 1976, no. 1105, illustrated p. 162

Catalogue Note

‘Around 1926-27, Max Ernst – looking back at World War I, but also possibly looking ahead with a sense of premonition – confronted the inexplicable phenomena of his age, which he sought to visualize in the form of profound allegories.’ Ioana Jimborean in Max Ernst: Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Albertina, Vienna & Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2013, p. 203



In 1927, when his work was dominated by images of the natural world, such as forests, birds and seashells, Max Ernst executed a remarkable group of paintings combining birds with humans, as well as with imaginary, mythical creatures. In contrast to his forest paintings which are dominated by sharp vertical and diagonal lines, La horde displays fluid, organic forms; the composition is dynamic rather than static and the bodies that occupy the entire surface of the canvas convey a sense of foreboding and drama.


La horde bears a premonition of violence that would become a central theme of Ernst’s later work. As in other paintings from this series (figs. 1 & 2), the ambiguous creatures appear to be marching towards the viewer, creating a sense of hostility and imminent danger. Ernst’s potent imagery of menacing figures and advancing barbarians heralds the violence that was to engulf Europe in the following decade. Uwe M. Schneede wrote about this group of paintings: ‘These pictures are not symbols, nor are they admonitions. What they depict is agitation, aggression, the ruthless advance of the monsters. Where the forest pictures ward off the menace and maintain a defensive posture, the Hordes go over to the offensive. That nothing stands in their way renders them especially menacing in their effect. […] The alogicality of dream has given way to insight into the terrifying mechanics of the aggressive drives within mankind, whether personal or political in nature’ (U. M. Schneede, The Essential Max Ernst, London, 1972, p. 97).


The present work belongs to one of the most creative periods in Max Ernst’s œuvre, marked by a constant stream of technical experimentation and invention. It was during these years that the artist established his personal mythology, the visual universe of themes and images that were to become central to his entire career. His experimentation with ways of applying pigment onto a surface resulted in his invention of frottage in 1925. Fascinated by the rich texture of the floorboards, he 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, unexpected compositions. 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. Discussing these grattage paintings produced between 1925 and 1929, Werner Spies wrote: ‘These works are sensual and tactile, with images of rubbed objects that appear as ghostly traces of form. Again and again in his Hordes and Bride of the Wind paintings he manipulated twine in various thicknesses, arranging and rearranging it beneath the canvas subjected to grattage so that the lines of the resulting image suggest vibration and earthquake, evoking a sense of violence and epitomizing what Breton called “beauté convulsive.”' (W. Spies in Max Ernst: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 13).


Werner Spies wrote about Ernst’s art from this pivotal period: ‘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. The pictures became more abstract in effect, their formats larger. The dramatic force of these paintings, the richness of their scintillating colour, made them high points of imaginative Surrealist art in the late 1920s’ (W. Spies in Max Ernst. A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 148).