Max Ernst, Soleil jaune
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Oil on canvas

65 × 53 cm | 25 5/8 × 20 7/8 in

Signed, »64« dated and titled on the verso

Catalogue Raisonné by Spies/Metken/Pech no. 3851

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Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York; Private Collection USA; Hauswedell & Nolte (December 1999); Private Collection Germany

  • Galeria René Metras, "Max Ernst", Barcelona 1968
  • Palazzo Grassi, "Max Ernst. Oltre la pittura", Venedig 1966
  • The Jewish Museum, "Max Ernst. Sculpture and recent paintings", New York 1966
  • Hanover Gallery, "Max Ernst. Early and recent paintings and sculpture", London 1965
  • Werner Spies/Sigrid & Günter Metken/Jürgen Pech, "Max Ernst Œuvre-Katalog Werke 1964-1969", Houston/Köln 2007, no. 3851
  • Galeria René Metras (Hg.), "Max Ernst", Barcelona 1968, no. 8
  • Sam Hunter (Hg.), "Max Ernst. Sculpture and recent painting", Ausst.-Kat. The Jewish Museum, New York 1966, no. 63
  • Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume (Hg.), "Max Ernst. Oltre la pittura", Ausst.-Kat., Venedig 1966, no. 62
  • Hanover Gallery (Hg.), "Max Ernst. Early and recent paintings and sculpture", London 1965, no. 41

Looking at the painting "Soleil jaune" by Max Ernst evokes a variety of associations. Each of us will want to see the yellow disc of the sun from a different angle, for example through a window pane partially scraped free of ice or surrounded by the rays of its halo in the cosmic fog. Ultimately, however, a specific interpretation is not possible, nor is it intended by the artist.

He explicitly points out that everyone can interpret his works as they like, but this should not be done in a rational way, as this would defuse them. Just as we can project a face and then an animal into a formless cloud in the sky, Max Ernst wants to track down the ambivalence of natural phenomena in his art. He is constantly searching for the hidden contradictions behind the principle of the identity of a being or an object - nothing is final and complete for him. Consequently, he also removes his pictorial world from definitive, authoritarian judgements once they have been made. The artist draws the poetry of his enigmatic works from this fragility and changeability. In his fantastic depictions, Max Ernst does not only apply the ambiguity to the level of content.

From the very beginning of his work, he included artistic techniques. He experiments with them with great openness, always starting from found banal objects. These inspire him to create ever new constellations and stimulate him to explore as yet unknown approaches. One such method is grattage, which Max Ernst developed for painting by modifying the rubbing-through and rubbing-off process of frottage: As in our work, he first applies several layers of colour, in this case yellow and green, on top of each other. Then he randomly places objects with different surfaces under the canvas. He then uses a painting knife to scrape away the areas that have been pressed out so that the deeper layers of colour become visible.

He does this intuitively or consciously, sometimes applying weak, sometimes stronger pressure with his hand, but not ignoring chance. He persistently repeats this procedure until he finally reworks the resulting structures with the brush, heightening some areas with white and emphasising individual scratch marks with dark green. In this way, the artist explores the secret that lies in the things and textures themselves and that brings them together in unforeseen encounters and mergers. In doing so, he never gives the small-scale structures a solely abstract meaning. They always remain bound to the representational and thus contain something of reality.

What Max Ernst describes is the experience that leads him to fill in spots with figurations and landscapes. And what he creates is a grandiose idea of a possible but inaccessible world - this is where his feeling for nature is most strongly expressed. But as already mentioned, he does not depict a final state. Rather, it represents a starting point. For it is only when we look at the "Soleil jaune" that the painterly result begins to unfold and take effect in us: We follow the sensualist appeal emanating from the many microforms. These keep our eyes in constant motion and they can only "hold on" to the colour relief for a short time. As an active creator, Max Ernst has receded into the background; he remains merely the controlling and critically supervising authority that carefully guides our visual experience.

About Max Ernst

As a German painter, graphic artist and sculptor, co-founder of the Cologne Dada Group, Max Ernst is also one of the most important members of the surrealist movement in Paris.

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