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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.

     

    Overview

    'A mathematician, however great, without the help of a good drawing, is not only half a mathematician, but also a man without eyes.' — Lodovico Cigoli to Galileo Galiei

    As an artist working through the turbulent years of the 20th century, Max Ernst shared in the same restless imagination and drive to invention as the great pioneering minds of history working in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and natural sciences that he so admired. Alongside the self-taught astronomer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel, who is represented in another work from the Schamoni collection and was the subject of their collaborative film and book projects Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie in 1964, Euclid held a particular fascination for the German artist, as this important 1950 work reveals. 

     

    Max Ernst, Portrait de Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel, 1965. Offered concurrently by Phillips in our New York Evening Sale next month
    Max Ernst, Portrait de Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel, 1965. Offered concurrently by Phillips in our New York Evening Sale next month

    Ernst and the Founder of Geometry 

     

    Known as the ‘Father of Geometry’, Euclid of Alexandria’s Elements  one of the founding texts for the discipline of mathematics for centuries after his death, and his lessons on plane geometry, perspective and spherical geometry were indispensable for Renaissance developments in the representation of depth and perspective across the arts. 


    The first example of mathematic proofs, the Elements opens with a discussion on plane geometry, the first proposition relating directly to the construction of the equilateral triangle. The prominent tetrahedron encircled by a concentric blue ring in Ernst’s 1950 composition is a direct reference to this first proposition, which shows that it is possible to construct an equilateral triangle on a given straight line. Being able to demonstrate this visually is not only proof of the theory, but also establishes that as well as being discoverable in nature, these forms can be constructed by man.
     

    Girolamo Mocetto, Portrait en pied d’Euclid, (325-265 avant JC), mathematician grec, 1531, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Paris Max Ernst, Euklid, 1945, The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, Photo credit Bridgeman Images © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021 
    Girolamo Mocetto, Portrait en pied d’Euclid, (325-265 avant JC), mathematician grec, 1531, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Paris
    Max Ernst, Euklid, 1945, The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, Photo credit Bridgeman Images © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021 

    Directly related to an earlier composition of the same title, now housed in the Menil Collection in Houston, the present work demonstrates the depth of Ernst’s engagement with his subject. While the 1945 portrait employs the same triangular form to represent the face of the mathematician, his elaborate hat and robes make a clear reference to popular Renaissance depictions of the subject, whereas by 1950, Ernst has confidently reduced the form of the figure to the representation of purely mathematical principles. 


    Moving confidently towards geometric abstraction, while remaining anchored to its representational qualities, Euklid generates a complex spatiality constructed through quadrangular forms, intersecting parallel lines and a tetrahedron at the centre, all animated by Ernst’s boldly reduced palette. Creating a sense of movement and dynamic energy across the piece, these abutting blue and green sections also include the faint markings of Ernst’s own hieroglyphic forms used to powerful effect in the text and film related to the Maximiliana collaboration, where Euklid features, alongside the following text by the poet-publisher Iliazad:

    'The black circle:
    I am the sun
    I am a white square
    I am the quadrature 
    of the spirit 
    I am the final nebula
    I am the immaculate 
    cognition
    I am the abstract 
    conception'
    —Iliazd

    As Ernst’s fantastic survey painting, Vox Angelica, 1943 highlights, the artist selected the tools and instruments of scientific enquiry as importantly representative of his work to date. The mathematician’s compass featured prominently as a way of maintaining order in a chaotic, war-torn world and as ‘ways of dealing with geometric objects in his painting’.i  

     

    Max Ernst, Vox Angelica, 1943, private collection Photo credit Bridgeman Images © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021
    Max Ernst, Vox Angelica, 1943, PRIVATE COLLECTION Photo credit Bridgeman Images © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

    Science, Surrealism, and the Henri Poincare Institute

     

    Duchamp had already introduced Euclid to the Dadaists as early as 1919. Upon learning of his sister’s marriage to his friend Jean Crotti, Duchamp sent them an unusual wedding present: a book of geometry with instructions of how to erect it as an ‘unhappy readymade’ by hanging it at their window and allowing the pages to be torn and damaged at random by the elements, Duchamp would later include in his Suzanne's photograph of the Readymade (own) miniature retrospective La bôite-en-valise, where the same Euclidian visual language is clearly visible. Like Duchamp, Ernst was particularly fascinated by the imposition of mathematical laws on a chaotic and random world, the tension between these two realities, and the imaginative possibilities for describing the visible world provided by a system as rigidly logical as geometry.

     

    Man Ray, Shakespearean Equations: Twelfth Night, 1948, Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / ADAGP – DACS – 2021; image : Telimage, Paris
    Man Ray, Shakespearean Equations: Twelfth Night, 1948, Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / ADAGP – DACS – 2021; image : Telimage, Paris

    Man Ray too became fascinated by a collection of strange, three-dimensional mathematical models housed at the Institute Henri Poincaré in Paris, having been introduced in the 1930s to the forgotten treasures by none other than Ernst himself. The forms, made from plaster, metal, wire and wood, were designed to illustrate algebraic equations, and Man Ray found them so alluring he took several photographs which were later translated into a series of paintings grouped under the title Shakespearean Equations and completed in Los Angeles. 


    Touching on a vital current of avant-garde thought running through the early decades of the 20th century, Euklid engages with mathematical precision and order as a means not only of speaking to the chaos and turbulence of European political reality in these years – which as a prisoner of war Ernst knew only too well-but also as a means of aligning this radical artist to the trailblazing innovators of the past. 

     

    Max Ernst with Euklid, Seillans, July 1973. Courtesy of the estate of Peter Schamoni 
    Max Ernst with Euklid, Seillans, July 1973. 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 Max Ernst: Sculture / Sculptures, (exh. cat.), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 1996, Milan, p. 97.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art; Kobe, Museum of Modern Art, Hyogo, Exhibition of Works by Max Ernst, 15 April - 10 July 1977, no. 103, n.p. (illustrated)
      Kunstverein Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Villa Böhm, Abfälle vom Werk Déchets d'œuvres: Originale und Grafik aus der Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 9 - 23 December 1978, n.p. (illustrated)
      Munich, Haus der Kunst; Nationalgalerie Berlin, Max Ernst Retrospektive 1979, 17 February - 15 July 1979, no. 292, p. 329 (illustrated)
      Bonn, Bundeskanzleramt, Max Ernst, Summer 1980, no. 26, n.p. (illustrated)
      Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Max Ernst, 28 February - 27 April 1986, no. 57 (illustrated)
      Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Entdeckungsfahrten zu Max Ernst Die Sammlung Peter Schamoni, 24 February – 23 June 2013, p. 176 (illustrated, pp. 3, 108-109)

    • Literature

      Peter Schamoni, Max Ernst Maximiliana, die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie, Munich, 1974, p. 54 (illustrated)
      Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken and Günter Metken, eds., Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog. Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2852, p. 282 (illustrated)

Maximiliana: Max Ernst from the Collection of Peter Schamoni

31

Euklid

signed and dated 'max ernst 50' lower right
oil and crayon on canvas
46 x 38 cm (18 1/8 x 14 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1950.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £239,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741
[email protected]

 

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

+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021