Max Ernst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 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 area of experience.' —Max ErnstDie Wankelmutter encapsulates the thematic oscillation between the cosmic and the microscopic that would come to define the extensive body of work created by Max Ernst in the 1960s. While much of his artistic production in this period directs its attention skywards to depict celestial bodies, astrological signs, and cosmic landscapes, here, the gaze is turned downwards and magnified to engage with the microscopic.


    Max Ernst captured in the process of varnishing Die Wankelmutter, photograph by Viktor Schamoni. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni. 

    The speckled cobalt blue background of Die Wankelmutter was created using the process of decalcomania in which a sheet of glass, paper, or canvas is placed over a painted surface and then removed while the pigment is still viscous. The action of pressing and then lifting the secondary material produces varied and unpredictable chromatic and textural surfaces. In an extension of the automatist practices associated with Surrealism, the contours of these surfaces are then used by Ernst as suggestive guides for his painterly intervention. In the present work, Ernst articulates two biomorphic forms against the dappled blue background using a flowing black line. Titled Die Wankelmutter or The Wobbling Mother, the borders of the central amoebic organism seem to quiver with energy as if anticipating a process of metamorphosis in the course of generating new life. Brightly coloured globes stare out blankly from the canvas like eyes or glowing nuclei contained within enlarged cells.  Deploying this imagery relating to the biological, Ernst presents the viewer with a painterly rendition of that which might have been captured using photomicrography – a microscopic photography process that had benefited greatly from technological innovations in the decades preceding this work. The charismatic energy of the richly-hued painting reflects Ernst’s life-long interest in the scientific and planes of existence located beyond ordinary human perception. 


    Collector's Digest


    •    This unique collection of Max Ernst works comes directly from the personal collection of renowned filmmaker Peter Schamoni. The two worked closely together on several collaborative projects, including the short 1966 film Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astromomie. 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.


    •    The collection reflects key moments in the artist’s career and personal life, encompassing a range of works in a variety of mediums from the 1920s through to the 1960s. It also highlights Ernst’s consistent interest in scientific modes of inquiry and discovery, with works borrowing ideas from the disciplines of mathematics and astronomy.


    •    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.


    •    A highly significant artist of the 20th century avant-garde, Max Ernst’s works are frequently included in definitive accounts of Dada and Surrealism, and his works are held in the most important institutional collections worldwide.

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Kunstverein Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Villa Böhm, Abfälle vom Werk Déchets d'œuvres Max Ernst Originale und Grafik aus der Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 9 - 23 December 1978 (illustrated, n.p.; erroneously dated 1962)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst / Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 24 February - 23 June 2013, pp. 120, 177 (illustrated, p. 121)

    • Literature

      Lothar Fischer, Max Ernst in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, Hamburg, 1969 (illustrated on cover)
      Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken and Günter Metken, eds., Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog. Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3693, p. 333 (illustrated)
      Max Ernst läßt grüßen: Peter Schamoni begegnet Max Ernst, exh. cat., Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster, 2009-2010, p. 65 (illustrated)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


Die Wankelmutter

signed 'max Ernst' lower right; signed and titled 'WANKELMUTTER Max Ernst' on the reverse
oil on canvas
27.3 x 35.4 cm (10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1963.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 50,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £88,200

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021