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

L'éloge de la liberté

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
L'éloge de la liberté
signed 'max ernst' (lower right)
oil on board
18 x 24 in. (45.8 x 61.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1951
Private collection, New York, by 1967.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, by 1985.
Runkel Hue-Williams Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989.
P. Waldberg, Max Ernst, Paris, 1958, p. 89.
J. Russell, Max Ernst, Leben und Werk, Cologne, 1966, no. 100, p. 347 (illustrated).
W. Spies, Die Rückkehr der Schönen Gärtnerin, Max Ernst 1950-1970, Cologne, 1971 (illustrated p. 31).
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2880 (illustrated p. 296).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Max Ernst: Landschaften, June - September 1985, no. 38 (illustrated).
Bonn, Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Max Ernst: Landschaften, November 1985 - January 1986, no. 46.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Max Ernst, February - April 1986, no. 60 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Max Ernst: A Retrospective, February - April 1991, no. 236 (illustrated p. 264); this exhibition later travelled to Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, May - August 1991, and Düsseldorf, August - November 1991.
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The motif of two caged birds is one that appears with regularity throughout Max Ernst's entire oeuvre. Signifying notions of the freedom of the unconscious mind trapped in the labyrinth of convention, the image of two birds in a cage usually represents Ernst himself and his lover, who, like two lovebirds in a cage, inhabit each other's worlds, minds and dreams.

In this painting from 1951 appropriately entitled L'éloge de la liberté (The Praise of Freedom), the two birds in a little house-like cage set at the foot of a red-stone Arizona mountain clearly stand for Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning and the freedom they found together in their Sedona home. Ernst and Tanning had first moved permanently to the town of Sedona in Arizona in 1946, where they bought a plot of land and set about building their house together. L'éloge de la liberté was painted in 1951, shortly after Ernst's first return visit to Europe after the war. This journey to his ravaged European homeland proved to be a depressing revelation for Ernst, who, on his return to Arizona, revelled in the idyll of his Sedona homestead. With its masterly invocation of the mighty spiritual grace of the ancient red-rock landscape around his American home, this painting appears to be a celebration of this isolated Western life. It is a work that echoes the sentiments of a poem entitled Das Schnabelpaar (The Billing Pair) that Ernst published along with a series of etchings two years later.

'Where a house stood years ago a mountain now stands
Where a mountain stood years ago a star now stands
Where a star stood years ago a billing pair now stands
That one is Max the Beak
And Nightingale, his beloved billing bride…'