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Lot 60: Max Ernst (1891-1976)

Est: £400,000 GBP - £600,000 GBP
Christie'sJune 23, 2010London, United Kingdom

Item Overview


Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Colombes noires sur fond rouge
signed 'max ernst' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 32 in. (65 x 81.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1931

Artist or Maker


Knokke-le-Zoute, Albert Plage, Casino Communal, Max Ernst, July - August 1953, no. 61 (with the incorrect dimensions, dated '1931').


Herman Toussaint.
Georges Boels, Brussels, and thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1987.


No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Werner Spies has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work which will be included in the forthcoming supplement to the Max Ernst catalogue raisonné.

'I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary capacities and by the hallucinatory succession of contradictory images superimposed, one upon the other, with the persistence and rapidity characteristic of amorous memories. My curiosity awakened and astonished, I began to experiment indifferently and to question, utilizing the same means, all sorts of materials to be found in my visual field; leaves and their veins, the ragged edges of a bit of linen, the brushstrokes of a 'modern painting, the unwound thread of a spool, etc. There my eyes discovered human heads, animals, a battle that ended with a kiss' (Max Ernst, 'On Frottage' 1936, quoted in Herschell B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, 1968, pp-429-431.

Colombes noir sur fond rouge (Black Doves on a Red Background) is one of a rare group of paintings made by Ernst in the late 1920s and early '30s that make use of a wide range of assisted chance techniques to create panoramic visions of fantastical landscapes, strange creatures and enigmatic figures emerging, as if by magic, from the essentially abstract medium of paint.

As in his paintings of forests and petrified cities, Ernst has here used the scraping technique of grattage to create an intricate mottled and highly suggestive textural surface. But this work, like another rare example, the Museum of Modern Art, New York's Le rendez-vous des amis - Les amis se changent en fleurs for example, is one of a small number of paintings from this time in which Ernst has subsequently then added to this more common grattage method of painting with a highly original use of string. While the dark brown covering paint was still wet, but after scraping, Ernst has in both these works laid onto and into it a fine thread or length of string allowing it to fall into numerous looping and knotted swirls which, when pulled off again before the paint has dried, embeds the paint with a complex meandering linear pattern. It is this linear patterning that has served as the main prompt in the creation of this work, for following suggestions to him made by its linear rhythm Ernst subsequently painted a rich red monochrome outline around some of these forms. In doing so he has created a jungle-like visual tangle of form out of which it is possible to discern in places, the faces of birds emerging from this strange abstract network.

Auction Details

Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

June 23, 2010, 07:00 PM GMT

8 King Street, St. James's, London, LDN, SW1Y 6QT, UK