Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Max Ernst (1891-1976)

An Anxious Friend (Un ami empressé)

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
An Anxious Friend (Un ami empressé)
signed and dated 'Max Ernst 1944' (on the left side of the base); stamped with foundry mark '.MODERN ART FOUNDRY. .NEW YORK. N.Y..' (on the right side of the base)
bronze with brown patina
Height: 25 ¾ in. (65.4 cm.)
Conceived in 1944 and cast in 1957
Le Point Cardinal Gallery, Paris (by 1961).
Feingarten Galleries, Los Angeles.
Acquired from the above by the present owners, 1971.
M. Ernst, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends, New York, 1948, p. 89 (plaster version illustrated).
M. Jean, Histoire de la Peinture Surréaliste, Paris, 1959, p. 378, no. 309 (another cast illustrated, p. 309).
A. Ferrier, "Max Ernst: Sculpteur" in L'oeil, December 1961, no. 84, p. 69.
J. Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work, New York, 1967, p. 352, no. 130 (another cast illustrated, p. 331, pl. 130).
W.S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York, 1968, p. 262, fig. 251 (another cast illustrated).
J. Levy, "Hommage à Max Ernst" in XXe siècle, 1971, p. 62.
U.M. Schneede, Max Ernst, Stuttgart, 1972, p. 211, no. 351 (another cast illustrated, p. 181).
P. Schamoni, Max Ernst: Maximiliana, The Illegal Practice of Astronomy, Munich, 1974, (another cast illustrated, fig. 57).
E. Quinn, Max Ernst, New York, 1977, p. 259, no. 313 (another cast illustrated in situ at Max Ernst's home in Seillans, p. 261, pl. 313, and p. 414).
J. auf der Lake, Skulpturen von Max Ernst: Aesthetische Theorie und Praxis, Frankfurt, 1986, pp. 113-114 (another cast illustrated, figs. 29a-c).
W. Spies, Max Ernst: Werke, 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, p. 92, no. 2472.I (another cast illustrated).
J. Levy, Memoir of an Art Gallery, Boston, 2003, p. 271 (plaster version illustrated in situ).
U. Bischoff, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, Cologne, 2005, p. 82 (another cast illustrated).
J. Pech, Max Ernst: Plastische Werke, Cologne, 2005, p. 62 (plaster version illustrated, pp. 59 and 60; another cast illustrated, pp. 11 and 61-63).
Paris, Le Point Cardinal Gallery, Max Ernst: Oeuvre sculpté, 1913-1961, November-December 1961, no. 26 (illustrated).
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Minneapolis Institute of Arts and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Modern European Sculpture, 1918-1945: Other Realities, May-November 1979, p. 45, no. 18 (illustrated, fig. 39).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, October 2000-January 2001, p. 362, no. 82 (illustrated in color, p. 273, pl. 156).


Dr. Jürgen Pech has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.

An Anxious Friend is one of a group of nine Surrealist figure sculptures Max Ernst created in Great River, New York, on Long Island, during the summer of 1944. This series of new, plaster sculpture related to a series that Ernst had made ten years earlier in Paris. “Max and Dorothea [Tanning] had found an old rambling house far out on Long Island we might all share over the summer,” Julien Levy, the leading dealer of Surrealist art in New York, later reminisced. “Max had become completely diverted from painting. He was making a chess set and a large sculpture The King Playing with the Queen [Spies, nos. 2470 and 2465, respectively]. Max had taken over the garage as a studio and there he poured his plaster of Paris into ingenious molds of the most startling simplicity and originality–shapes found among the old tools in the garage plus utensils from the kitchen. One evening he picked up a spoon from the table, sat looking at it with that abstracted, distant sharpness one finds in the eyes of poets, artists and aviators. He carefully carried it away to his garage. It would be the mold for the mouth of his sculpture, An Anxious Friend” (Memoir of an Art Gallery, Boston, 2003, pp. 270 and 271). The garage was filled with found objects and parts which Ernst cast in plaster. Cones, cylinders, boxes, flowerpots, buckets, tubs, utensils, plates, bowls and tools were laid on an old chest of drawers, and strewn around the studio floor.
The rectangular conception of the two figures in An Anxious Friend harkens back to various representations that Ernst painted in 1930 of his avian alter-ego Loplop (Spies, nos. 1704, 1705 and 1707), as well as Anthropomorphic Figure (Spies, no. 1709). Ernst’s idea of creating a three-dimensional figure in stepped, advancing planes stemmed from the design that the architect Frederick Kiesler had executed in 1942 for the Surrealist room in the first public exhibition in New York of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection, “Art of this Century,” in which the paintings were mounted on arms jutting forward from concave wall panels.
The subject of An Anxious Friend is, according to Jürgen Pech, the eleventh of the Twelve Labors of the Hercules, in which the Greek hero, the smaller of the two figures here, outwits the titan Atlas, who supports the weight of the firmament on his shoulders, and then absconds with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, which bestow immortality on their possessor (Max Ernst: Skulptur, exh. cat., Malmö Konsthall, 1996, pp. 88-91). This sculpture’s title in French, Un ami empressé (A Solicitous Friend), evokes the moment when Atlas and Hercules each realize they need the other for his own designs–Hercules will take on the giant’s burden if the latter will fetch for him the prized apples. Upon his return, however, Atlas decided to keep the apples for himself, leaving Hercules to bear the weight of the world.
The English title An Anxious Friend, by which the sculpture is best-known, alludes to the later moment when Hercules, not to be outsmarted, gingerly inveigles the giant to take back the load for a moment while the hero adjusts his lion’s robe to cushion its weight. Once the burden had again been shifted, Hercules fled with the apples. Most of the sculptures Ernst created that summer contain such elements of dualism and multiple fateful possibilities, employing what Levy called Ernst’s “deepest Janus-dialectic” (op. cit., 2003, p. 271), referring to the Roman god who looks both forward and behind, as two heads conjoined as one, like the two figures in An Anxious Friend/Un ami empressé.
“The field of hayweed and scrub behind our hybrid house became a sculpture garden. On improvised pedestals Max mounted his finished plasters,” Levy recalled. “André Breton came out to visit. He admired Max’s sculpture and I could see Max was pleased, that he gave great weight to Breton’s opinion. I photographed Breton and Ernst in the field with Ernst’s sculpture, ‘An Anxious Friend.’” (op. cit., 2003, p. 273). The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Menil Foundation, Houston are among the public institutions that possess bronze casts of this sculpture.

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