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

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    "The significance of suns, moons, constellations, nebulae, galaxies and space as a whole outside the earth zone have steadily taken root during the last century in human consciousness as well as in my work, and will most probably remain there."
    —Max Ernst



    As a portrait of the 19th century amateur astronomer and lithographer Ernst Willhelm Leberecht Tempel, the present work occupies a place of distinctive significance in the collection of renowned film-maker Peter Schamoni. Traveling around Europe, Tempel discovered several comets before turning his sights to minor planets, including his discovery of 65/Cybele in 1861 which he named “Maximiliana” in honor of Maximilian II of Bavaria. Operating outside of the establishment however, Tempel’s “illegal” discoveries were frequently challenged and overruled, and he was frustrated in his desire for recognition and acknowledgment by the scientific community that he so longed to be accepted into. Tempel and the story of Maximiliana began to preoccupy Ernst in the early 1960s, explored first in a 1964 artist’s book collaboration with Russian Dadaist Iliazd (Ilya Zdanevich), and then in his 1966 collaboration with Schamoni, the short film Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astromomie (Maximiliana and the illegal practice of astronomy) and their later 1974 text Max Ernst: Maximiliana.



    Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie (1966), directed by Peter Schamoni. 



    Executed in 1965, in the early years of Ernst and Schamoni’s burgeoning friendship, the playful assemblage Portrait de Ernst Willhelm Leberecht Tempel is deeply representative of both the artist’s formal experimentation and his thematic preoccupations during these years. Showcasing Ernst’s characteristically witty and expressive juxtaposition of materials, he combines black checker pieces, a wooden-handled metal brush, and one of the printing plates used for the 1964 artist’s book 65 Maximilaina ou l’exercise illégal de l’astronomie in his portrait of the 19th century astronomer. Touching on a broader cultural shift towards the stars as the Space Race intensified through the 1960s, Ernst’s playful portrait of this historically marginalised figure speaks fondly to the fundamental importance of assemblage in his practice, and of the central role played by Tempel and Maximiliana in Ernst’s radically interdisciplinary collaborations.



    The Artist and the Astronomer 


    "The art of seeing is on the point of getting lost as a result of the invention of all sorts of optical instruments."
    —Ernst Willhelm Leberecht Tempel, 1878




    Max Ernst standing with the present work in Paris, 1964. Photo by Viktor Schamoni, courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni 

    Max Ernst standing with the present work in Paris, 1964. Photo by Viktor Schamoni, courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni 



    Especially pronounced in his collage and frottage works from the 1920s and early 1930s, Ernst had a well-established interest in natural history and astronomy, and freely incorporated these visual elements into his work. After having stumbled on Tempel’s poem Der Glöckner in 1960, Ernst became immediately fascinated by the compelling parallels he was able to draw between the two of them. Beyond sharing a name and a robust engagement with print illustration for which Tempel had formally trained, Ernst found himself convinced that Tempel shared his own, rebellious instincts and revolutionary vision. 




    Astronomer Ernst Willhelm Leberecht Tempel at his observatory in Marseilles

    Astronomer Ernst Willhelm Leberecht Tempel at his observatory in Marseilles



    At odds with the technical developments of his own time, Tempel preferred rudimentary instruments that allowed him to capture astronomical phenomena such as the Merope Nebulae in the Pleiades in 1859. Rejecting the significant developments in photography during the mid-19th century, Tempel instead cultivated a complex notion of what he described as the “art of seeing,” a process that involved both close scientific observation and leaps of imaginative faith not dissimilar to that practiced by Ernst. Such pronouncements deeply resonated with Ernst, whose pioneering forays into the visual languages of Dada and Surrealism had prioritized precisely these questions of vision and “seeing.”


    "May I allow myself, as a painter, to discover a similar phenomenon in art: that everything that has accumulated over the centuries has lost direct, real seeing. And at all times there have been painters who have come back to see this. And these are the real revolutionaries in painting."
    —Max Ernst


    Evolving out of his early Dada collage experiments and closely related to the artist’s restless experimentation with materials and technique that he would develop in his celebrated frottages after 1925, the present work comes from a period of more intensive exploration of these processes and playful approach to his selected materials.




    Max Ernst, Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (Deux Enfants sont menacés par un rossignol), 1924. Museum of Modern Art, New York

    Max Ernst, Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (Deux Enfants sont menacés par un rossignol), 1924. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021



    While the checker-piece eyes perhaps refer to the elements of play and chance advocated by Dada and Surrealist practices that to some extents were also incorporated in Tempel’s own largely unaided observation of the stars, the metal-toothed comb (most likely a dog grooming tool) playfully corresponds to the formal elements of nose and mouth while wittily evoking the bushy beard of the portrait’s subject.






    "It is possible to interpret this confrontation of script and stars. Just as now and then a star emerges from the host – as a moving planet, as a comet – so also does a cipher, whose ideogram becomes intelligible to us, rise up now and then from the heap of incomprehensibility. One could draw the conclusion that the limits of vision correspond to the limits of understanding."
    —Werner Spies


    Incorporating one of the lithographic plates used in the earlier 65 Maximiliana project, the present work simultaneously pays tribute to Tempel’s own lithographic talents, and of the extent to which Ernst not only incorporated Tempel into his thinking in significant ways during this period, but of his attempts to communicate directly with this great visionary through his own secret script. At once a witty tribute to the pioneering amateur scientist, the present work is also a proud announcement of the mutually illuminating practices of the artist and the astronomer.



    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.

    • Provenance

      Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Jewish Museum, Max Ernst, Sculpture and recent painting, March 3 - April 17, 1966, no. 86, p. 56 (illustrated)
      Venedig, Palazzo Grassi, Max Ernst, Sculpture and recent painting, June 17 - October 2, 1966, no. 85, n.p. (illustrated)
      Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art; Kobe, Museum of Modern Art Hyogo, Exhibition of Works by Max Ernst, April 15 - July 10, 1977, no. 120, n.p. (illustrated, n.p.)
      Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Villa Böhm, Max Ernst, Abfälle vom Werk / Déchets d'oeuvres; Originale und Grafik aus der Sammlung Peter Schamoni, December 9-23, 1978, n.p. (illustrated, n.p.)
      Munich, Haus der Kunst; Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Max Ernst. Retrospektive, February 17 - July 15, 1979, no. 318, p. 342 (illustrated)
      Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Münster; Kunsthaus Zürich, Relief. Formprobleme zwischen Malerei und Skulptur im 20. Jahrhundert, August 22 - November 2, 1980, no. 114, p. 201 (illustrated)
      Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Ernst - Die Retrospektive, March 5 - September 12, 1999, no. 177, p. 236 (illustrated, p. 238)
      Brühl, Max Ernst Museum, Max Ernst, Eröffnungsausstellung, September 4, 2005 - September 30, 2006
      Brühl, Max Ernst Museum, Max Ernst, Schausammlung im Wechsel II, October 24, 2006 - April 1, 2007
      Munster, Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Max Ernst lässt grüssen: Peter Schamoni begegnet Max Ernst, September 27, 2009 - January 10, 2010, p. 141 (illustrated)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst / Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, February 24 – June 23, 2013, p. 178 (illustrated, p. 147; the artist with the present work, Paris, 1967, illustrated, p. 146)

    • Literature

      Peter Schamoni, Max Ernst Maximiliana, die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie, Munich, 1974, p. 78 (illustrated)
      Ursula Lindau, Max Ernst und die Romantik. Unendliches Spiel mit Witz und Ironie, Cologne, 1997, no. 94, pp. 182, 190 (illustrated, p. 183)
      Schriftenreihe der Max Ernst Gesellschaft. Band I, Brühl, 2005, p. 88 (illustrated)
      Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken, Günter Metken and Jürgen Pech, eds., Max Ernst OEuvre-Katalog. Werke 1964-1969, Cologne, 2007, no. 4043, p. 101 (illustrated)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


Portrait de Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel

signed and dated "max ernst 65" lower right; signed, titled and dated "Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel max ernst 1965" on the reverse
collage and oil on wood panel
39 1/2 x 20 in. (100.3 x 50.8 cm)
Executed in 1965.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $176,400

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