Description & Technical information

In June 1954, Max Ernst was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at
the XXVII Venice Biennale. At the same event, Hans Arp received the
Grand Prize for Sculpture and Joan Miró the Grand Prize for Graphic
Work. The year before, accompanied by his fourth wife, the artist
Dorothea Tanning , the 62-year-old Ernst had finally returned from exile
in the United States, where he had fled following the outbreak of World
War II,. The prize awarded in Venice enabled Max Ernst to mount a
representative retrospective of his work spanning thirty years. The
award meant international recognition, but also brought about his
exclusion from the surrealist movement once and for all. In 1955 André
Breton and eleven other members announced their decision in the fourth
issue of the magazine Médium in an article entitled A son gré. Five
years later, Max Ernst would describe this exclusion as an
"excommunication" and commented on the Surrealists' decision in his
literary collage "La nudité de la femme est plus sage que l"enseignement
du philosophe", "having sold my soul to the Vatican, my integrity to
the merchants of Venice." 1 Inmid August, even before the Biennale
closed, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst used the prize money to purchase a
property in the small village of Huismes near Chinon in the Touraine
region, which they spent the next years gradually renovating and which
was to become their country home for a decade.
In 1956, two
extraordinary exhibitions spanning from the Renaissance period to the
contemporary art of the time took place in the Indre-et-Loire county of
France. The Dessins et manuscrits de Leonard de Vinci were exhibited at
the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours from June 23rd to October 1st and were
followed by the "Exposition de trois peintres américains, deux
Tourangeaux ? un Parisien, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Dorothea Tanning" from
November 10th to December. 16th.The group exhibition, organised by the
American Embassy's Cultural Office, seems to have been Max Ernst's idea,
since he was still an American citizen at the time. However he did
affirm his new homeland through the exhibition?s title. Max Ernst drove
preparations forward and, while the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was
still on, he wrote to his fellow artist Man Ray,
"Dear Man, the
exhibition project at the Musée de Tours which I spoke to you about is
this: 4 exhibitors: Mies van der Rohe (for architecture) and three
painters (for painting drawings, graphic works, objects, photos, etc.)
These three painters would be: Man Ray, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst. I
feel that it could be a nice exhibition, and I would be glad if you
wanted to participate. Opening November 10th. Duration 2 months, I
suppose. Location: the grande salle des États of the Musée de Tours
(where is currently an exhibition dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci). Write
to me. With kind regards to you both. Max Ernst t.s.v.p. PS. The room
is big. We can put large paintings (of your choice, of course)".
Ernst contributed three bronze casts and seven paintings, including the
only A5-sized imagined portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, which he had
created especially for the exhibition. This portrait specifially brings
to mind the Touraine region's bond with Leonardo da Vinci, who had spent
the last three years of his life at the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise
until his death in 1519, and to whom the recent exhibition at Tours had
paid tribute. In light blue, yellow and greenish hues, the image
combines blurred, mist-like elements for the beard and beret with a
precise, clearly contoured triangle with two dots to represent his face.
On the one hand, Max Ernst aludes to a non-verified portrait of
Leonardo da Vinci in the Uffizi Gallery, which was used as the
frontispiece of Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky's A Novel of Leonardo da
Vinci, incidentally, much appreciated by Sigmund Freud. On the other
hand, he masks the face with an isosceles geometric figure and so
undermines the illusion. The three fingers of the hand reach across the
coat's summarily sketched seams up towards the beard and create an
somewhat assured visionary, distance.

Leonardo da Vinci, painter,
sculptor, master builder, naturalist and technician, the universal
genius of the Renaissance, was one of Max Ernst's main inspirations for
his perspective on art, which focused on the inspiration process, on
capturing the random and the subconscious.
Max Ernst, who had himself
been described as the "Leonardo of Surrealism" in an exhibition review,
had used passages from Leonardo's Treatise on Painting in his
theoretical text on art, "Au-delà de la peinture" as early as 1936 to
explain and defend his rubbing technique and to substantiate his
introspective approach, as " the painters' role is to grasp and project
what is visible in himself."
The Renaissance artist and the last
years he spent in the Touraine region continued to inspire Max Ernst and
led him to create a fountain for the town of Amboise as a tribute to
the universal genius. It was inaugurated on November 30th, 1968 by
Michel Debré, who was mayor of Amboise at the time as well as the French
Minister for Economy and Finance. In an interview with the author, art
and literature critic Robert Lebel, he commented on this gift, "I saw
the occasion of a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci, and in the meantime to
Touraine that had welcomed him, just like it welcomed me four centuries
later, back from the US."

In 1957, a year after the group
exhibition, Max Ernst created the large-format oil painting "Projet pour
un monument à Léonardo da Vinci". Here, the title does not refer to the
representation of a monument as such, but to a distanced, creative
approach. The title is used by Max Ernst as an indirect reference to
procedural creativity, as Leonardo da Vinci was more concerned with the
idea in his drawings and manuscripts than in a production.
The large
portrait format consists of interwoven swathes of colour, which increase
and decrease in density and which were initially created through a
repeated, subconscious process using a palette knife. Max Ernst had
increased his use of this automatic, staccato movement in the early
1950s. It allowed for a creative chaos that lent itself to introspection
and interpretation and conveyed artistic confrontation with the
fascinating, but not yet existant image. Various areasof the piece were
then made darker or given a magical shimmer through layers of paint and
additions, allowing individual motifs to emerge over time. Red tones
dominate ; blue and yellow serve as accent colours. A bird appears in
profile bottom left ; to its right are two hands, each with four
fingers, wrapped around aglowing crystal of red and yellow light. The
flame of knowledge is carefully preserved and protected. A constellation
of stars, trajectories, planets and orbits extend along the left edge
of the piece. With this motif, Max Ernst expands on the themes of
procedural creativity and of the temporal sequence around spatial
expansion, whereby space and time each have an infinite dimension.
in the 1956 portrait of, the face is replaced by a mask, but this time
it is more carefully structured. A glowing, yellow sphere, surrounded by
a lighter and darker red ring, dominates the left half of the angular,
pointed face with a wide, parted mouth. The right side is a bright white
, with a horizontal line suggesting a closed eye. Max Ernst alludes to
the legendary dual nature of Leonardo da Vinci, on the one hand, to the
eminent natural scientist and, on the other hand, to the inward-looking,
visionary artist.
He therefore enhances a way of look, a gaze that
is directed both inward and outward at the same time. Compared to the
Leonardo portrait of 1956, this new design for Leonardo's head, alludes
to Leonardo da Vinci's "occhio tenebroso" ("the dark, inward-looking
eye"), and can also be associated with the famous maxim of the German
Romantic, Casper David Friedrich, also held in high esteem by Max Ernst,
"Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with the
the spirit's eye. Then bring to light what you have seen in the
darkness, that its effect may work back, from without to within."

the end of 1958, Max Ernst finally acquired French citizenship. This
new and definitive nationality was celebrated at the Paris Musée
National d'Art Moderne with a large-scale retrospective exhibition,
which ran from November 13th to 31st December 31st, 1959. Amongst the
175 exhibits was the painting "Projet pour un monument à Leonardo da
Vinci", whose significance is underscored by the fact that it had
represented Max Ernst and his current art creative style and had been
shown shortly before in Kassel, at the second documenta exhibition,
where it emphasised the significance of an introspective, interpretative
and procedural creative process.

Signed and dated lower right: Max Ernst 57. Countersigned and dated on the reverse
Certificate of authenticity issued by Jürgen Pech on October 13th 2019.

Date:  1957
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Suisse
Dimensions: 130 x 97 cm (51¹/₈ x 38¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: Edouard Loeb Gallery, Paris
Claude Hersaint collection, Meudon, Seine-et-Oise
Hélène Anavi collection, Paulhiac, Lot-et-Garonne
Sale Sotheby's, London, 27-28 March 1984, lot n°25
Private collection, Paris

Literature: Marcel Brion, Hommage à Max Ernst, XXe siècle, numéro spécial, Paris 1971, reproduced p.87.
The Hélène Anavi Collection of Surrealist and Post-war Art, Sotheby's, Londres, 27-28 mars 1984, lot n°25.
Ludger Derenthal, Jürgen Pech: Max Ernst, Nouvelles Éditions Francaises, Paris, 1992, n° 387, reproduced p.235.
Spies (ed.), Max Ernst OEuvre- Katalog, vol 6, Werke 1954-1963,
bearbeitet von Werner Spies, Sigrid und Günter Metken, Cologne, 1998,
illustrated under the n°3225, p.94
Max Ernst "Le jardin de la France", Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, 2009-2010, reproduced p.85.

Exhibitions: Kassel, Internationale Ausstellung, II. documenta ?59. Kunst nach 1945, 11 July - 11 October 1959, n° 279
Musée d'Art Moderne, Max Ernst, 13 November -31 December 1959, n°87
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Max Ernst, 28 December 1962 - 3 March
1963 and Kunsthaus Zurich, 23 March - 28 April 1963, n°103
Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 17 October 2009 - 18 January 2010

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints