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Max Ernst (1891-1976)

On parle le latin

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
On parle le latin
signed 'max ernst' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated 'on parle le latin max ernst/55' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 23 5/8 in. (72.8 x 60 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Edouard Loeb, Paris.
Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London.
E.J. Power, London.
Marlborough Fine Art, London (no. L04606)
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 30 November 1993, lot 183.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3122 (illustrated p. 41, titled 'Ici, on ne parle pas le Latin').
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On parle le Latin was painted in 1955 shortly after Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning had settled in the village of Huimes near Chinon in the Touraine. Ernst and Tanning had returned to France in 1953 after having spent the previous ten years living amongst the red rock landscape of Arizona.

On parle le Latin is one of a group of paintings that Ernst made at this time that recall the extraordinary landscape of Arizona - a landscape that Ernst, incidentally, had dreamed of and portrayed in his work of the 1930s, many years before he first went there. Settled once again in Europe, Ernst evidently recalled the magic of this landscape, re-invoking it in several red landscape paintings.

Here in On parle le Latin several of the perennial themes of Ernst's painting emerge from what at first appears to be a red Arizona landscape at sunset. In fact, the corrugated grattage mountains form the body of a benevolent angel-type figure gently nurturing two love birds silhouetted against an empty blue form at the centre of the work while in the sky a smiling sun and moon look down on them. The bird for Ernst was an archetypal symbol of spiritual freedom and in the form of his alter-ego, the mystic bird-man Loplop, the spiritual guide to the labyrinthine forest of his unconscious mind. The appearance of two love birds as in this work is often used by Ernst to represent himself and Tanning. It is in this way that this work can be seen as a simultaneous portrait of their continuing odyssey - a work of both memory and homecoming, guarded by an angel who evidently speaks Latin.