Max Ernst

Max Ernst
Fleurs de neige, 1929
Oiseau-tête, 1934/35
The King Playing with the Queen, 1944
Moonmad, 1944
Humboldt Current, 1951/52
Naissance d’une galaxie, 1969
Swampangel, 1940
Fleurs de neige, 1929
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Max Ernst
Fleurs de neige, 1929
Snow FlowersOil on canvas, 130 x 130 cmPhoto: Robert Bayer, Basel
Fleurs de neige was produced in Paris, at a point in time when Ernst was the most important of the Surrealist artists. The picture employs as its background three geometric planes in blackish green, black and blue, which can also be read as a simple landscape situation with two hills and a night sky. Blossoming on the two dark ‘hills’, like crystalline apparitions in an inner universe, are the wondrous snow flowers of the title, which Ernst has created with the aid of unusual artistic techniques (grattage, frottage and the use of a painter’s comb). The composition is complemented by two other motifs: lower right, the small image of a bird family used by Ernst as his personal emblem and with which he proclaims himself part of this distant world of flowers, and a small blue globe floating alone in the blue field – an image of a remote planet, not dissimilar to Earth?
Oiseau-tête, 1934/35
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Max Ernst
Oiseau-tête, 1934/35

Bird-Head
Bronze, one of nine casts, 52.5 x 37.5 x 24.6 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Alongside Picasso, Miró, Matisse and Kelly, the great ‘painter-sculptors’ in the Fondation Beyeler also include Max Ernst, three of whose sculptures are represented in the collection. The earliest of these is the bronze Oiseau-tête (Bird-head), which consists of a flat face on ‘legs’ – a cephalopod, in other words. Projecting from its forehead is the head of a bird with an open beak. The work resembles a bizarre hybrid creature from the realm of fantasy that has suddenly materialized in front of us. Ernst was acquainted with such visitors from ‘beyond’ and frequently kept company with a bird figure called Loplop, which he described as his ‘private phantom’. In combining a flat base panel with a face in low relief and a three-dimensional bird’s head, Oiseau-tête describes the transition from the flat surface of the picture to the spatial volume of sculpture and thereby highlights the process by which the creature assumes increasing form.

The King Playing with the Queen, 1944
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Max Ernst
The King Playing with the Queen, 1944

Original plaster cast, 102 x 88 x 55 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

The work – the original plaster model of a group later reproduced in bronze – shows a menacing-looking horned figure who recalls the Minotaur in his mythical, archaic appearance. He is seated at a chessboard and is playing: having just taken a piece with his left hand, he is reaching for the queen with his right hand in order to move her out of the way. Only on closer examination does it become clear that the large figure is himself also one of the pieces in this game of chess – a game that particularly fascinated Ernst. It is the king, who is playing with the queen and at the same time with himself.

Moonmad, 1944
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Max Ernst
Moonmad, 1944
Bronze, one of ten casts, 92.6 x 32.1 x 29.8 cmPhoto: Peter Schibli, Basel
Moonmad was created in 1944 in America, following Ernst’s escape into exile, and was originally modelled in plaster. A number of years later it was then cast in bronze. The figure is made up of forms that show the moon in various phases. The surreally somnambulant state of ‘moon madness’ thus becomes a figuration that embodies this mental disposition.
Humboldt Current, 1951/52
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Max Ernst
Humboldt Current, 1951/52

Oil on canvas, 36 x 61 cm
Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

Humboldt Current is dedicated to a cold current in the Pacific Ocean. Ernst placed the canvas on top of a wooden board during painting and allowed the grain to become part of the composition. Thus Nature herself has a direct hand in the work. The current gleams coolly in the nocturnal sea – accompanied across the water by a full moon that makes the painting feel reminiscent of the Romantic era.

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Naissance d’une galaxie, 1969
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Non exposé actuellement

Max Ernst
Naissance d’une galaxie, 1969

Birth of a Galaxy
Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Naissance d’une galaxie (Birth of a galaxy) was created in the year of the first moon landing. Man had conquered the lunar symbol of the yearnings of Romanticism (a cultural epoch so important for Ernst) and found only empty, rocky silence. As if by way of a replacement, Ernst allows a new galaxy, its circular disc patterned with dots, to arise out of the nebula of primeval forms inhabiting the lower border of the picture. This galaxy is located in the imagination – and in the picture seen here. Entirely in keeping with Ernst’s fantastical natural history, the eternal, ethereal realm and the here and now of artistic invention converge in the moment of this picture.

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Swampangel, 1940
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Max Ernst
Swampangel, 1940

Oil on canvas
Wooden frame covered in velvet by the artist, 65 x 81 cm
Beyeler-Stiftung, gift of Ulla and Richard Dreyfus-Best

Max Ernst

1891, Brühl (Rhineland) – 1976, Paris The German-French painter and printmaker took up painting while studying psychology and art history in Bonn, and initially experimented with Expressionist, Cubist and Futurist styles. In 1912 he first exhibited with the Rhineland Expressionists, and in 1913 he was represented at the First German Autumn Salon in Berlin. In 1916, while on leave from the front during the war, he got to know the Berlin Dadaists; this encounter led him to found a Dada group in Cologne three years later, together with Jean Arp. In 1922 he moved to Paris, where he joined the Surrealists. In tune with the “écriture automatique” they were propagating, Ernst developed collages, invented the graphic techniques of ‘frottage’ and ‘grattage’ and made sculptures based on found objects. His visionary cosmogonies can be regarded as continuing the traditions of Grünewald and Bosch.

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