Violette Sonne signed 'max ernst' (in pencil, lower right) oil on waxed paper laid to board 20.5 x 17.4cm (8 1/16 x 6 7/8in). Painted circa 1962
PROVENANCE Acquired from the artist by Ulrich Schamoni, Berlin. Galleria La Bussola, Turin, no.1A317. Galeria di Meo, Paris. Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 1 April 1982, lot 361. Purchased from the above by the present owner.
LITERATURE W. Spies and S. and G. Metken, Max Ernst Oeuvre-Katalog, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no.3637 (illustrated p.305).
Violette Sonne is one of a series of paintings of the sun and planets made by Ernst in the early 1960s in which he moved away from the sometimes ambiguous humour of his earlier career towards a more mystical sense, which sometimes approaches abstraction. The cosmic themes may be related to contemporary advances in space exploration, but can also be traced back, notably in the present work, to his early investigations of Colour Theory: 'Blue and yellow are the first oppositions in colour of the coloured totalities of darkness and light, the measureless sphere of the firmament and the finite sphere of the earth' (M. Ernst, 'Vom Werden der Farbe [The Development of Colour]', Der Sturm, VIII, 1917, p.66). This is particularly relevant in Violette Sonne, which pointedly explores the possibilities of reversal and opposition by painting the sun blue. The striking image that results has a further resonance to the modern viewer since it prefigures by six years the famous 'Earthrise' images sent back by Apollo 8 in December 1968, the first coloured photographs of the 'blue planet' seen from space.
This sequence of planetary compositions culminated in Maximiliana, ou l'Exercice illégal de l'astronomie, Ernst's meditations on Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel, the controversial nineteenth century astronomer, which was published in 1964. As Werner Spies has noted, 'in the spirals and mists of Tempel's nebulae, [Ernst] discerned the Surrealists' romantic worldview expressed in Breton's term 'exposante-fixe'. In his homage to Tempel, Ernst drew together and united the threads of Dada protest and the Surrealists' triumph over violence.' (W. Spies, 'Nightmare and Deliverance' in Max Ernst: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005, p.18). Violette Sonne is the product of the same triumphant period in Ernst's career, in which he combined the motivations of his early maturity with a new optimism engendered by Europe's post-war recovery.
The first owner of this work was the influential German film director Ulrich Schamoni, brother of Peter Schamoni, publisher of a lavish 1974 edition of Maximiliana, ou l'Exercice illégal de l'astronomie, and director of Max Ernst: Mein Vagabundieren - Meine Unruhe (1991, released in English as Max Ernst: Journey into the Subconscious).