MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm) (Painted circa 1957)

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Lot 24
Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm)

Sold for US$ 588,500 inc. premium
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft)
signed 'max ernst' (lower right)
oil on masonite
18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm)
Painted circa 1957


  • Provenance
    Max Ernst, Sedona, Arizona.
    Dr. Kenneth B. Brilhart, Cottonwood, Arizona (acquired from the above in 1957), and thence by descent to the present owner.

    Jerome, Verde Valley Artist's Gallery, Loan exhibition of important paintings owned by local collectors, circa 9-30 April 1961.

    This work will be included in the supplementary volume of the complete work of Max Ernst in preparation, edited by Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Werner Spies in collaboration with Dr. Sigrid Metken and Dr. Jürgen Pech.

    Ohne titel [Sedona Landschaft] is a powerful expression of Max Ernst's reaction to the dramatic Arizona landscape, one of the most significant discoveries of his years in the United States. It was presented by the artist to Dr. Kenneth Brilhart, chief of staff at the local hospital in Cottonwood, in the year it was painted, and has remained in Arizona ever since. The combination of the rich orange tones of the Sedona rocks and the overtly surrealist and otherworldly décalcomanie technique mark it out as a characteristic example of the artist's engagement with the region.

    The rocky outcrops set against a high horizon and a limpid sky also recall the great landscapes of the early 1940s such as Paysage avec Lac et Chimères, (circa 1940; Private collection) and Europe after the Rain II (1940-42); Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford), which memorialize Max's escape from the European war and his arrival in New York. Max and his wife, the American surrealist Dorothea Tanning, left Arizona for the last time in October 1957 to settle permanently in France, so this work is among his last made in Sedona and can be read as a summation of the pivotal American period of his career.

    Max's 'American' landscapes balance the hope and optimism of his host country with his experience of the devastation of war, setting composition against disintegration, regeneration against entropy. As Werner Spies notes, 'running through these 'beautiful' cosmic landscapes there can often be detected a hairline crack. These were paintings that critically diagnosed the impossibility of creating a harmonious art. ...To the end Max Ernst remained true to his early decision to strive for a symbolic painting in which open questions, and hence the unfathomable obscurity of existence, took precedence over simplistic positivist explanations and definitive stylistic results' (W. Spies, 'From the Age of Anxiety to the Childhood of Art' in Max Ernst: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 252).

    Max's initial forays into Dadaism and then Surrealism were in part inspired by his traumatic experiences in the First World War. He was caught up in the turmoil of conflict again in 1939 when he was living with Leonora Carrington in Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche in the South of France. Interned first by the French as an enemy national, he was released only to be arrested by the invading Germans as an 'individual of suspicion'. He escaped Europe in 1941 with the assistance of Peggy Guggenheim. Shortly afterwards he met Dorothea, to whom he was to be married from 1945 until his death. Max and Dorothea first visited Arizona in 1943 as an antidote to New York life:

    'Arizona offered isolation, a celestial climate, a way of life that was both economical and free from suburban constraints. It offered the inspiration of supreme, natural beauty... Few things are more stirring than the fantastic forms and the irrational coloring of the mountains around Sedona. In the mid-1940s, life and landscape in that region had an uncorrupted quality which made Arizona a Promised Land in which a new life could be begun and an old one discarded... and although Max Ernst had never been a landscape painter, in the ordinary sense, it was deeply moving for him to come upon a landscape which had precisely the visionary quality that he had sought for on canvas.' (J. Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work, London, 1967, p. 140).

    To accompany the many exhibitions of his later career Max put together a loose autobiography in note form, which he titled 'Biographical Notes: Tissue of Truth, Tissue of Lies'. He records his reaction to Sedona: 'The first fascinating thing about the place was its abundance of color – the intense red ochre of the soil and rocks, the delicate green of the huge, 'snowing' trees, the light blue of the cypresses, the pink bark of the Ponderosa pines. Then there were the rock formations, which resembled a great variety of things and had thus been given names that were not always flattering (the nicest was 'Cleopatra's Bosom').' (M. Ernst, 'Biographical Notes' in Max Ernst: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 323). Max's comment on the associative quality of these names parallels his own use of chance resemblance in building a composition, neatly shown in the present work.

    The mountains around Sedona may also have triggered recollections of Max's German heritage. In particular, he had a deep affinity for German Romantic painting. He was drawn to the depictions of landscape and the natural world, and by extension to the position of man in relation to the wider universe, concerns that animate the works of Caspar David Friedrich. Ernst's interpretations of the Arizona mesas perhaps owe something to Friedrich's Harz Mountains or the peaks of the Riesengebirge. 'The fact is that I've always had Friedrich's paintings and ideas more or less consciously in mind, almost from the day I started painting.' (quoted in E. Roditi, 'Ein Mittagessen mit Max Ernst', Der Monat, March 1960, p. 70).

    Despite these European connections though, the present landscape is inescapably Arizonian. Standing as a brooding sentinel at the left of the composition is the figure of a hawk, an exotic cousin to Loplop, Max's birdman alter-ego. Max had been drawn to Arizona in part by his interest in the Hopi and in Pueblo culture. He had collected Hopi Kachina figures since his arrival in New York and was fascinated by indigenous culture. In this context, and in view of his own aquiline profile, the hawk can perhaps be read as Max's Arizonan spirit animal. Birds had always held a special place in Max's mythology. This was perhaps derived from his exploration of the woods around his childhood in Brühl. From the mid-1920s, perhaps under the influence of Miró, this evolved into the character of Loplop, a symbol of spiritual freedom and a guide to the labyrinthine forest of the unconscious mind, who appears frequently in Max's compositions.

    The surface of the present work, notably the hawk, is built up using the technique of décalcomanie which Ernst had borrowed from the Spanish surrealist Oscar Domínguez. As with other favored methods, such as frottage and grattage, this introduced chance and by extension the role of the subconscious into the process. The effect is achieved by pressing pools of liquid paint between a smooth surface and the painting support and then separating them in a swift movement. The resulting runnels and blots are examined by the artist and used as a guide for the progress of the composition. Using this 'automatic painting' as a base, Ernst discerned the wing and beak of the hawk to the right, adding an eye and talons for emphasis. To the left, the contorted ridge of the Arizona landscape is defined by the scraped-away horizon line below a burning yellow sun, a decisive intervention by the artist which transforms the actions of chance into a recognizable landscape.
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm) (Painted circa 1957)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm) (Painted circa 1957)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm) (Painted circa 1957)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Ohne titel (Sedona Landschaft) 18 1/2 x 23 3/8 in (47.1 x 59.5 cm) (Painted circa 1957)
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