- Max Ernst
- 款識：畫家簽名 Max Ernst 並紀年1929（右下）
Galerie Änne Abels, Cologne (acquired by 1957)
Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London (sold: Sotheby’s, London, 23rd March, 1983, lot 50)
Sale: Ader, Picard & Tajan, Tokyo, 7th December 1989, lot 49
Zen International Fine Art, Tokyo
Helly Nahmad Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 1998)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Max Ernst, 1962-63, no. 47
London, Helly Nahmad Gallery, Max Ernst, 2006, no. 22, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
This rich, new source of imagery was rapidly refined by Ernst, initially in a series of works on paper, and then, in a further development into the associated technique of grattage in which he covered canvases with a layer of paint before placing them over an object and scraping off the pigment to reveal the patterned surface beneath. Among the first manifestations of this technique were Ernst’s coquillages (fig. 1), in which he created still lifes and landscapes – similar to the present work - that combined large planes of abstract colour with the seemingly organic structures of flowers or shells created through grattage.
As Ernst was immediately aware, the spontaneous suggestiveness of these techniques responded directly to Surrealist theory, yet these works were never entirely ‘automated’ as their composition was always subject to conscious decision on the part of the artist. As Werner Spies writes, ‘The textures of the objects Ernst placed under the canvas and lent a voice by means of the grattage technique suggested a stream of consciousness of the kind activated by ‘automatic writing’. Yet the flow of lines and shapes always remained subordinate to a definite pictorial conception, whether of the human figure, of birds, ‘hordes’ and advancing barbarians or forests and landscapes. This approach to painting arose from a dialectic between activity and passivity that began to play an increasingly central role in the artist’s work at this time’ (W. Spies, Max Ernst. A Retrospective, (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 148).
In Le désert, Ernst conjures a bare and expansive landscape in which strange, almost skeletal monoliths rise from the earth like vestiges of an ancient civilisation. Spies has described the canvases of this period as containing a ‘prescience of imminent disaster’ (W. Spies, ibid., p. 148) and in Le désert Ernst captures this sense of the uncanny. The quasi-archaeological fragments in the foreground pre-empt his later visions of ruined cities, whilst the small orb which casts its light over the vivid red sand and swathes of blue sky is a motif that reappears in many of Ernst’s looming, primordial forests (fig. 2). A masterful example of Ernst’s contribution to the Surrealist œuvre, the absorbing power of this work is also in part due to the way it remains grounded in a sense of reality through his use of grattage. As Karin von Maur writes, ‘Ultimately derived from nature itself, this procedure gave rise to landscape visions which, thanks to their partial imitation of the growth patterns and textures of plants, evoked nature far more intensely than the traditional techniques of realism’ (K. von Maur in W. Spies, ibid., p. 343).