Max Ernst’s Dreamworld

On 17 September 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

An artist (Max Ernst), a gallerist (Henri Creuzevault) and an encounter: although there was nothing surrealistic about it, the result beckons us to look beyond what we see.

Max Ernst (1891-1976), Forêt, 1927, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm.
Estimate: €300,000/500,000

Max Ernst’s far-away forests hardly look like appealing places for a night stroll. Not even the moon, depicted here as one of saturn’s rings, evokes a sense of security or serenity. All it does is shine a halo of clarity on a dusky sky and a composition offering no way out. More mineral than vegetal (only the intersecting vertical lines evoke tree trunks), it attests to the visions of an artist on a continuous quest. Ernst created this emanation called Forest during a fruitful decade, the 1920s, when he, Éluard and Breton founded the surrealist movement and the artist painted his most important pictures. It is also when, driven by the all-consuming need to try new languages, Ernst experimented with the frottage (rubbing) technique. He discovered this new visual language – the process itself is an ancestral one – almost by chance on 10 August 1925. Gazing at the grooves in a floor that had been scrubbed a thousand times, Ernst had a kind of vision. He grabbed a sheet of paper and rubbed it over the boards with a lead pencil, bringing to light a landscape and, above all, the subconscious. Driven by creative energy, he tracked down shadows in burlap bags, strings, spools and grills, codifying all of them in his 1926 Histoire naturelle. From then on, he applied the process to colour, ceaselessly rubbing to make monsters, birds, entire cities and these dense, tragic nocturnal forests emerge. This painting belongs to the Colette Creuzevault collection, the first part of whose dispersion, orchestrated by the same auction house on 11 December 2019, met with success, especially for Germaine Richier’s sculptures. This time, Ernst is likely to steal the spotlight from the sculptor, in all artistic conviviality, for the two were friends. This proves that Henri and Colette Creuzevault’s choices were not guided by chance – an essential difference from the surrealism that nurtured him.

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