Max Ernst paintings from the collection of Dorothea Tanning lead the New York sale

Max Ernst paintings from the collection of Dorothea Tanning lead the New York sale

Max Ernst paintings from the collection of Dorothea Tanning lead the New York sale

Bonhams are delighted to have been entrusted with the sale of two remarkable paintings by Max Ernst consigned by a descendent of his widow, the artist and writer Dorothea Tanning. The paintings will be among the highlights of Bonhams' Impressionist and Modern Art sale in New York on November 16. Neither work has ever appeared at auction before.

Tremblement de terre printanier (estimate $600,000-1,000,000) is a monumental work from 1964, painted at Seillans in the South of France, where Ernst lived with Tanning following his return from wartime exile in the United States. Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république (estimate $400,000-600,000) features Ernst's alter ego the bird/man Loplop in a dark, blood-red landscape beneath a shimmering yellow shell-sun. Significantly, their use of methods similar to 'automatic' and action painting, and techniques such as grattage and a heavy impasto which emphasises the physicality of the process speaks clearly of Ernst's influence on the Abstract Expressionist generation.

Among twentieth century artists, Max Ernst (1891-1976) is perhaps matched only by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Joan Miró (1893-1983) in the span of his relentlessly innovative and consistently influential creative career. His first major influences were the Expressionist Auguste Macke, who he met in 1911, and the Sonderbund exhibition of 1912, which brought Picasso and the Post-Impressionists to Ernst's native Cologne. However, the trauma of his service in the trenches of the First World War caused a radical re-evaluation. The result, a rejection of order, of the system and of settled norms, became Dada. Ernst became simultaneously a guiding spirit and an amused observer of both Dadaism and its stepchild Surrealism, movements which it has been said made Modern Art possible. In 1941 Ernst escaped the chaos of a European war for the second time, landing in America to rejoin the depleted band of Surrealists. In New York his influence was particularly felt by the new generation of artists who were to become Abstract Expressionists, notably Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. His work continued to break new ground after his return to Europe in 1949, finding relevance in movements as diverse as Art Brut and Pop Art. Ernst was exploring new avenues in painting until shortly before his death in 1976.

It was also during the war years that Ernst met Dorothea Tanning. Ernst had been living in France at the beginning of the war, and soon found himself hunted by both sides. Interned by the French as an enemy alien, he escaped but was then arrested and placed in a concentration camp by the Gestapo as a Degenerate painter and an undesirable. He escaped again and with the help of the heiress and patron Peggy Guggenheim travelled to New York. He married Guggenheim as his third wife in 1941. Tanning's history was much less complicated: originally from Galesburg, Illinois, she arrived in New York in 1935 with a passionate desire to become a painter. Largely self-taught, she developed a strongly surrealist style while supporting herself as a commercial artist for Macy's department store. In December 1942 Peggy Guggenheim asked Ernst to scout out talent for an exhibition of women surrealist painters. By Tanning's own account he arrived at the studio one afternoon to look at her work, stayed to play chess, and moved in within a week. Their relationship of mutual support and inspiration blossomed in New York and Sedona, Arizona, and after 1949 in Paris and the South of France, until Ernst's death in 1976. Tanning's own work became increasingly abstract. Following her return to New York in the late 1970s she turned increasingly to writing, particularly poetry, and to enjoying the pleasures of an irresponsible old age. She remained active up to her death at the age of 101 in 2012. As she famously said, 'Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don't see a different purpose for it now.'

by William O'Reilly, Director, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York