Max Ernst's Surrealist fresco 'Le Sénégal' will be auctioned at Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art sale on Thursday 2 March, Bonhams New Bond Street. The unusual work, inspired by the artist's time spent in Arizona, is estimated at £400,000-600,000.
Le Sénégal (1953) was painted at a time of huge change for Max Ernst (1891-1976). The artist had recently returned to post-war Europe after twelve years exile in America. Returning to Paris in 1953, he visited Danie Oven, a Senegalese friend and the owner of a bistro on the rue des Grands Degrés. It was on the wall of that small restaurant that Ernst painted Le Sénégal. a work that signalled the beginning of what became known as his 'second French phase', a period characterised by spirituality and ritual.
Like many other Surrealist artists, Ernst had a keen interest in 'primitive art'. This interest took hold during the twelve years he spent in America. Having fled persecution in Europe, where 25 of his paintings had been shown in the Nazi's Degenerative Art exhibition, Ernst found hope in the tenacity of native tribes who held fast to their individuality. "For them" he wrote, "time exists, suspended." The description could refer to the figure of Le Sénégal which floats, suspended on a dusty background.
Whilst in America, Ernst frequented the New York Museum of American Indians, bought a six metre tall Kwatiutl house-pole and formed a collection of Hopi and Zuni Kachina dolls. The year before his return to Europe, he gave a series of lectures at the University of Hawaii on 'Traces of Influence of the so-called Primitive Arts on the Art of our Times'.
His passion for Native American culture peaked during his time spent in the Sedona Desert, Arizona, where he lived with his fourth wife, Dorothea Tanning, from 1946 until 1953. The yellows and reds of that desert landscape clearly informed Le Sénégal, as did his interest in the rock paintings and engraved drawings on the walls of desert caves. Ernst painted two frescoes on the wall of his friend's Parisian café. The second, the sister work to Le Sénégal is now lost.
India Phillips, Bonhams Head of Impressionist & Modern Art said, "This extraordinary painting displays Ernst's wartime obsession with Native American art. An unusual and mysterious work, it was removed from the wall of a Parisian Bistro and remounted in around 1957."