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Max Ernst (1891-1976)

Le tambour major de l'armée céleste

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Le tambour major de l'armée céleste
signed and dated 'max ernst 70' (lower right)
oil on canvas
57½ x 45 in. (146 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1970
Galerie Iolas, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner.
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Max Ernst, à l'intérieur de la vue, April - May 1971.
Dublin, Royal Dublin Society, The Poetry of Vision: An International Exhibition of Modern Art from Outside Ireland and Viking Age Art, October - December 1971, no. 37.
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Werner Spies has confirmed the authenticity of this work which will be included in the forthcoming 1970-1976 volume of the Max Ernst catalogue raisonné.

Max Ernst's work of the 1960s and '70s is often distinguished by the artist's increased preoccupation with a sense of cosmology. Many of his landscapes that had formerly so often depicted suns or moons rising and setting over strange forests, seas or petrified cities, in his later years, now came to represent strange planets, star systems, galaxies and other celestial worlds of the imagination. In Le tambour major de l'armée céleste (The Drum-Major of the Celestial Army) Ernst has created a memorable and celestial personage that seems to emerge, like the diagram of a constellation, from the sky-like expanse of textural and chromatic chaos of the painting's background.

Using a technical process to prompt his prodigious creative powers of imagination and invention into discerning a figure amidst the random patterns that it generates, Ernst has here used a series of different coloured painted grounds and a grid-like scraping technique to scratch out a shimmering, abstract and multilayered painterly surface. From the random patterns of form, generated by this extraordinary background, the idea of the celestial drum-major seems to have appeared to him like a visionary apparition. Donning a crown and comprising of three black circles that serve as his eye and the two balls of his drumsticks, this magical figure - part mystical archetype, part linear diagram linking these black spheres into some kind of magical order - happily beats his cosmic drum, accompanied by a slightly comic, glyph-like companion. Bringing magical form to this otherwise formless void, this elegant and humorous figure both animates and appears to reveal a hidden poetic order within the apparent emptiness and chaos of the universe.

'It is not to be despised, in my opinion, if, after gazing fixedly at the spot on the wall, the coals in the grate, the clouds, the flowing stream, if one remembers some of their aspects; and if you look at them carefully you will discover some quite admirable inventions. Of these the genius of the painter may take full advantage, to compose battles of animals and men, of landscapes or monsters, of devils and other fantastic things which bring you honour. In these confused things genius becomes aware of new inventions' (Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting, first published in Paris, 1651).