Max Ernst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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    "The joy in every successful metamorphosis conforms…with the intellect’s age-old energetic need to liberate itself from the deceptive and boring paradise of fixed memories and to investigate a new, incomparably expansive areas of experience, in which the boundaries between the so-called inner world and the outer world become increasingly blurred and will probably one day disappear entirely."
    —Max Ernst



    Executed circa 1921, Max Ernst’s Ohne Titel (les hommes ne le sauront jamais) emerges from one of the most innovative moments of the artist’s career as he reached a fully articulated Surrealist style that placed him among the pantheon of 20th century avant-garde masters. Demonstrating his use of collage as a device to create striking conjunctions of disparate imagery, the present work exhibits Ernst’s application of Freudian thought to Surrealist ends as he recreated the absurd logic of dreams with groupings of unrelated but inexplicably interconnected elements. Situating his iconic figure amidst a mélange of alchemical symbols, arcane geometry, and ornithological illustrations in an isolated seascape, Ohne Titel showcases a constellation of the iconographical vocabulary that would come to characterize Ernst’s pioneering oeuvre. 



    Hermann Landshoff, The Surrealists (back row: Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian; center row: Max Ernst, Amédée Ozenfant, André Breton, Fernand Léger, Berenice Abbott; front row: Stanley William Hayter, Leonora Carrington), 1942. Muenchner Stadtmuseum, Munich, Image and Artwork: © bpk Bildagentur / Art Resource, NY 



    In 1921, Ernst made his acquaintance with André Breton, who shared the artist’s interest in psychological realms in addition to his artistic inclinations. Upon studying psychology at the University of Bonn prior to World War I, Ernst encountered not only mainstream psychological thought but also the cutting-edge theories of Sigmund Freud. Breton and many of the French Surrealists were largely unaware of Freud, and Ernst’s injection of Freudian thought into the group catalyzed not only his own work, but ultimately the development of the entire movement. For Ernst, Freud presented the arsenal to undermine the conventions through which the world is perceived and understood; for the Surrealists, Freud offered a point of departure into the unknown domain of dreams.



    "One cannot overstress the importance of this point of departure for Max Ernst; his knowledge of Freud enabled him to analyze his own personality and to keep under control the associations that thronged his unconscious."
    —Werner Spies



    Max Ernst, Les Hommes n’en sauront rien (Men Shall Know Nothing of This), 1923. Tate, London, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021



    Beginning in the early 1920s, Ernst used collage to incorporate elements influenced by Freudian theory into his work. Ernst conceived of collage as “the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane that apparently does not suit them,” and his adoption of the technique as a device to bring together unrelated elements on a common plane of existence gave birth to the strange new iconography that frequents his work from this period.i In Ohne Titel, Ernst taps the reservoir of imagery that foreshadowed the language of Surrealism, revealing the “manifest dream content” of which Freud wrote in The Interpretation of Dreams and that the Surrealists sought to liberate. 





    As Breton wrote of Ernst’s work after seeing his first exhibition in Paris in 1921, about the most notable quality of Ernst’s painting of these years was its “wonderful ability to reach, without leaving the field of our experience, two widely separated worlds, bring them together, and strike a spark from their conjunction.”ii While not comprised of collage in the conventional sense, works such as the present example and the related Les hommes n’en sauront rien, 1923, achieve its effects by bringing together unrelated images into a cohesive—if absurd—whole.



    "Above the clouds the midnight is wandering. Above the midnight the unseen bird of day is soaring. A little higher than the bird, the ether is growing and the walls and the roofs are floating away."
    —Max Ernst


    Frequently incorporated into his work, birds held a powerful role in Ernst’s imagination. The most notable example comes in the form of Loplop, Father Superior of the Birds, the totem of Ernst’s Surrealism—part avatar, part shamanic guide—who presided over the leaps into the unconscious and juxtaposition of strange, dream-like images that preoccupied his Surrealist work. Ernst’s fixation with avian avatars can be traced back to his childhood: he often recounted an apocryphal tale of metamorphosis when, on a cold January morning in 1906, his beloved childhood cockatoo expired at the very moment his father announced Ernst's sister's birth. Conflating the two events, the young Ernst believed that his bird’s life had been given over for his sister’s, which would amount to a foundational moment for his deep personal associations with the animal and his “voluntary if irrational confounding of the images of human beings with birds and other creatures.”iii 




    Max Ernst, Oedipus Rex, 1922. Private Collection, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021



    The paired birds of the present work may not only allude to the artist’s spiritual kinship with the animal, but also to Freud’s concept of the Doppelgänger, an uncanny motif comprising the alter ego or identical double of a protagonist which poses the paradox of encountering oneself as another. Fusing Freudian thought with the artist’s personal mythology, Ohne Titel (les hommes ne le sauront jamais) encapsulates the tools in Ernst’s painterly arsenal that allowed him to channel the unconscious mind into fantastical materialized creations.



    Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


    This special collection of Max Ernst works offered across Phillips Fall Sale Season comes directly from the personal collection of the renowned filmmaker Peter Schamoni. Encompassing a range of works in a variety of mediums from the 1920s through to the 1960s, the collection reflects key moments in the artist’s career and personal life, highlighting Ernst’s consistent interest in scientific modes of inquiry and discovery, especially in mathematics and astronomy.  Ernst and Schamoni worked closely together on several collaborative projects, including the short 1966 film Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie (Maximiliana and the Illegal Practice of Astronomy) on which the collection title is based. Representing the depth of their personal and professional relationship, the collection also includes works that were made especially for these film projects and were gifted directly to Schamoni by Ernst. Exhibited extensively and previously on long-term loan to the Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, the works were also included in the internationally renowned 2013 exhibition Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni.


    i Max Ernst, Beyond Painting, and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends, New York, 1948, p. 13.
    ii Werner Spies, Max Ernst: Collages, London, 1988, p. 228.
    iii Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Loplop: The Artist’s Other Self, London, 1983, p. 10.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris
      Jacques Kaplan, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Turin, Galleria Galatea, Max Ernst, October 22 - November 18, 1966, no. 7, n.p.
      Barcelona, Galeria René Metras, Max Ernst, May 1968, no. 14, n.p.
      Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst: målningar, collage, frottage, teckningar, grafik, böcker, skulpturer 1917-1969, September 13 - November 2, 1969, no. 9, p. 73
      Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Max Ernst, May 16 - August 18, 1975, no. 105, p. 159 (illustrated, p. 52)
      Kunsthaus Zürich; Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie; Munich, Städtische Galerie, Max Ernst, August 18, 1978 - April 15, 1979, no. 44, p. 162 (illustrated, p. 85)
      Kölnischer Kunstverein, Max Ernst in Köln, May 7 - July 6, 1980, no. 91, p. 327 (illustrated, p. 169)
      Bonn, Ausstellung im Bundeskanzleramt, Max Ernst, July 1980, no. 6, n.p. (illustrated)
      Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Kosmische Bilder in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, November 11, 1983 - January 6, 1984, no. 23, p. 190 (illustrated, p. 145)
      Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Max Ernst, February 28 - April 27, 1986, no. 8, n.p. (illustrated, n.p.)
      London, The Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Max Ernst: A Retrospective, February 13 - November 3, 1991, no. 61, p. 375 (illustrated, p. 106)
      New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Houston, The Menil Collection; The Art Institute of Chicago, Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism, March 14 - November 30, 1993, pl. 127, no. 143, p. 371 (illustrated, p. 258)
      Kunsthaus Zürich; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Arnold Böcklin, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst: Eine Reise ins Ungewisse, October 3, 1997 - August 10, 1998, no. 169, p. 442 (illustrated, p. 354)
      Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Ernst - Die Retrospektive, March 5 - September 12, 1999, no. 34, p. 62 (illustrated, p. 63)
      Munster, Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Max Ernst lässt grüssen: Peter Schamoni begegnet Max Ernst, September 27, 2009 - January 10, 2010, p. 57 (illustrated)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst / Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, February 24 – June 23, 2013, pp. 62, 175 (illustrated, p. 63)

    • Literature

      Werner Spies, Max Ernst - Collagen, Inventar und Widerspruch, Cologne, 1974, no. 170, p. 489 (illustrated, n.p.)
      Peter Schamoni, Max Ernst Maximiliana, die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie, Munich, 1974, p. 19 (illustrated, p. 18)
      Werner Spies, Sigrid and Günter Metken, eds., Max Ernst OEuvre-Katalog. Werke 1906-1925, Cologne, 1975, no. 464, p. 238 (illustrated)
      Winifried Konnertz, Max Ernst, Cologne, 1980, no. 23, p. 250 (illustrated, p. 54)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


Ohne Titel (les hommes ne le sauront jamais)

signed "max ernst" lower right
gouache, watercolor, pen and graphite on buff-colored paper
19 3/4 x 25 1/2 in. (50.1 x 64.8 cm)
Executed circa 1921.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $504,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021