Max Ernst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • In 1991, Peter Schamoni created a documentary celebrating the extraordinary career of Max Ernst. The film includes archival footage that captures the artist’s virtuosic creation of Entdeckungsfahrten ins Unbewußte. Ernst is pictured standing at a desk in his studio. He places a sheet of paper over a pressed sprig of branches replete with small, rounded leaves. Grasping a stick of charcoal between his thumb and forefinger, he passes the pigmented material to-and-fro across the sheet in a rapid motion to create the waving tendrils of the coral-like structure. The lower section of the paper is then repositioned over a short plank of wood, and the charcoal used again to capture the texture of the grain to articulate the ground from which the biomorphic form emerges.

    The footage demonstrates Ernst’s idiosyncratic employment of frottage, a technique developed by the artist in the mid-1920s as a key component of his drawing practice. Literally translated from the French as ‘rubbing’, the term describes a method of capturing the texture of an object on paper by placing the two in direct contact and rubbing a pigmented material across the surface of the latter. With striking precision, Ernst shares the origins of his experimentation with the technique in a letter written to Schamoni in the 1960s, contemporaneous to the creation of the present work. He recalls that on a rainy day in August 1925, he was confined to his room at a seaside inn due to the bad weather and became mesmerized by the deep grooves in his worn floorboards. ‘I decided then to investigate the means of this obsession and to help my meditative and hallucinatory faculties, I made a series of drawings by placing on the boards sheets of paper which I rubbed with black lead’.i Ernst’s account characterises frottage as a practice associated with automatism. Anticipating a central tenant of the Surrealist movement with which he would become particularly associated in the 1930s, the German artist describes the technique as a means to access the unconscious mind through the meditative qualities of the artmaking process.


    Max Ernst surrounded by the tools used to create Entdeckungsfahrten ins Unbewußte which is pictured to the left of the artist, photograph by Viktor Schamoni. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni.

    Entdeckungsfahrten ins Unbewußte shares its title with the German director’s first short film made in collaboration with the artist in 1964. Translated into English as ‘Voyages of discovery into the unconscious’, the title of both the film and the frottage powerfully encapsulates the pair’s shared conviction that the act of creativity might serve as a vehicle to arrive at the hidden depths of the mind. Executed on film and gifted to Schamoni by Ernst, this work on paper stands as an index of process and a compelling testimony to the friendship shared between filmmaker and artist.


    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.

    i Max Ernst, quoted in Max Ernst: Mein Vagabundieren – Meine Unruhe, dir. by Peter Schamoni, Germany, 1991

    • 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.)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst / Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 24 February – 23 June 2013, p. 177 (illustrated, p. 123, erroneously dated 1963)

    • Literature

      Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken and Günter Metken, eds., Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog. Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3665, p. 319 (illustrated)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


Entdeckungsfahrten ins Unbewußte

signed 'max ernst' lower right
frottage and graphite on paper
26.4 x 22.3 cm (10 3/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1962.

Full Cataloguing

£4,000 - 6,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £3,528

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