Max Ernst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Maximiliana


    The title for this special collection of Max Ernst works offered across Phillips Fall Sale Season is taken from a short 1966 film collaboration between Peter Schamoni and Ernst, Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astromomie (Maximiliana and the illegal practice of astronomy). The film and the 1964 book collaboration between Ernst and the poet-publisher Iliazad on which it was based takes as its subject the German amateur astronomer and lithographer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel (1821 – 1889), whose discoveries were not properly recorded because his practice as an amateur was deemed to be ‘illegal’. Suffering persecution and humiliation, Tempel nevertheless discovered an asteroid which he named ‘Maximiliana’, a symbol around which Ernst and Schamoni would orient their deep friendship and many collaborations together.




    Shimmering in a haze of rich, earthy reds, brilliant turquoise and ultramarines, Pyramid Lake is a stunning ode to the otherworldly beauty of the American desert that so captivated Max Ernst during the 1940s and 50s. Hovering between dream and reality, the highly textured surface of the present work is the result of Ernst’s novel experimentation with to materials and process, Pyramid Lake is a breath-taking example of Ernst's decalcomania techniques, a method that characterizes his most celebrated paintings.


    Intensifying his experimentation with the semi-automatic techniques of frottage and grattage, Ernst began playing with the possibilities of decalcomania in 1940. While not a radically new technique in itself – having been popular in the 19th century – Ernst’s adoption of the method in the 1940s signalled a significant development.


    While Ernst’s own frottage and grattage methods both use textured objects underneath a sheet of paper to create complex passages on the surface of these larger works – the former by rubbing graphite over paper and the latter by applying a thin layer of paint which when scraped away bears the imprint of the texture of the object below – the strange effects of decalcomania were achieved by pressing a sheet of glass or paper against the still-wet paint on the canvas.


    Max Ernst, Swampangel, 1940, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich / Photo: Robert Bayer © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021
    Max Ernst, Swampangel, 1940, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich / Photo: Robert Bayer © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

    Unpredictable and highly variable, this technique transformed the structure of the painted surface into a field of mushrooming clouds, fine capillaries, and textured pockets. As with his earliest frottage experiments from 1925, these unpredictably variegated surfaces acted as a springboard for the imagination, as Ernst transformed them into phantasmagorical landscapes. In its shifting patterns and strange superimpositions, Pyramid Lake ranks alongside Swampangel (1940), now in the collection of the Fondation Beyeler, and L'oeil de silence (1943-44), at Washington University, in St. Louis as an exemplary instance of this method and its surreal effects.


    Sedona and Surrealism


    Putting the trauma of the war years finally behind him, Ernst eventually settled in Sedona, Arizona with his wife, muse, and final companion the American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning in 1946, the same year Pyramid Lake was completed. However, the other-worldly calcifications of the landscape had imprinted itself on his unconscious long before his first physical encounter with it in 1941. Ernst’s son, Jimmy recalls the moment his father confronted the physical reality of ‘the visionary quality that he sought for on canvas’ on a road trip with his then wife, the indomitable Peggy Guggenheim.i

    'On a late afternoon, we got out of the car to watch a gigantic rattlesnake crossing U.S. 66 just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. As Max looked up at nearby San Francisco Peak, he blanched visibly […] He was staring at the same fantastic landscape that he had repeatedly painted in Ardèche, France, not very long ago, without knowing of its actual existence.' —Jimmy Ernst

    CAPTION: Pyrmaid Lake, Nevada  CAPTION: Detail of the present work
    Pyrmaid Lake, Nevada 
    Detail of the present work


    A Home on Capricorn Hill

    'The first fascinating thing about the place was its abundance of colour – the intense red ochre of the soil and rocks, the delicate green of the huge ‘snowing’ trees, the light blue of the cypresses, the pink bark of the Ponderosa pines. Then there were rock formations, which resembled a great variety of things…' —Max ErnstTanning and Ernst built a life of simple pleasures on Capricorn Hill in Sedona. There they were visited by avant-garde luminaries including Marcel Duchamp, Lee Miller, and Man Ray, who Ernst even took out to visit Pyramid Lake in the early 1950s.Located just east of Reno, Pyramid Lake is a remnant of the vast inland sea that once covered most of Nevada, a colossal basin without an obvious source or outlet. Sitting within land designated as a reservation site for members of the Paiute tribe, Ernst visited the site regularly, fascinated by the landscape and the customs he observed there. His large collection of Native American kachina figurines, started after his first visit to the desert with Guggenheim and developed over these years with Tanning in Sedona, owes much to these outings, as of course do his otherworldly landscapes.


    Max Ernst during the construction of the studio in Sedona, Arizona, 1946, photo: Lee Miller. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni
    Max Ernst during the construction of the studio in Sedona, Arizona, 1946, photo: Lee Miller. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni

    Bringing together an incredible wealth of archival footage, Peter Schamoni’s 1991 feature-length documentary Max Ernst: Mein Vagabundieren – Meine Unruhe records this period in wonderful detail, incorporating photographic images of the bare timber bones of their house erected against the sublime and surreal emptiness of the landscape. Although Ernst and Tanning had already returned to Europe when they befriended Schamoni in the 1960s, the filmmaker shared a deep appreciation for the dramatic power of the calcified Arizona desert, to which the film’s sweeping, stunning panoramas testify.


    Coming to auction from Schamoni’s esteemed collection, Pyramid Lake is a record of both Ernst’s time in Sedona, and of the filmmaker’s later retracing of his footsteps. In its strange, shifting structures, the painting’s surface precisely evokes the spaces between dream and reality, the terrestrial and the cosmic that characterises the Schamoni collection, and communicates most evocatively the superimposed double vision of these two artists.


    CAPTION: Peter Schamoni filming in Bryce Canyon, Utah, 1990, photo: Ernst Hirsch. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni
    Peter Schamoni filming in Bryce Canyon, Utah, 1990, photo: Ernst Hirsch. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni

    Max Ernst Among the Stars:  Astrophysicist Ravit Helled examines 20th century breakthroughs in planetary science alongside contemporary works by Max Ernst.


    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 J. Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work, London, 1967, p. 140.

    • Provenance

      Anthony M. Turano, El Cerrito, California (acquired directly from the artist in 1946)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

    • Exhibited

      Kunsthaus Zürich; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Nationalgalerie Berlin, Arnold Böcklin. Giorgio de Chirico. Max Ernst, 3 October 1997 - 9 August 1998, no. 167, p. 176 (illustrated)
      Kunsthaus Apolda Avantgarde; Hamburg, Ernst Barlach Haus Hermann F. Reemtsma, Max Ernst, Traumlandschaften, 13 June - 12 December 2004, no. 35, p. 73 (illustrated)
      Münster, Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Max Ernst läßt grüßen: Peter Schamoni begegnet Max Ernst, 27 September 2009 - 10 January 2010, pp. 86-87 (illustrated)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 24 February - 23 June 2013, pp. 50, 52-54, 57, 176 (illustrated, pp. 45, 51, 98-99)

    • Literature

      Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken and Günter Metken, Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog. Max Ernst Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2504, p. 111 (illustrated)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni


Pyramid Lake

signed and dated 'max ernst 46' lower right
oil on canvas
40.4 x 71.3 cm (15 7/8 x 28 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1946.

Full Cataloguing

£550,000 - 750,000 ‡♠

Sold for £627,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021