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

Ci meurent les cardinaux

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Ci meurent les cardinaux
signed and dated 'max ernst 62' (lower right)
oil on canvas
35 x 46¾ in. (89 x 116.2 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Gallerie Alexandre Iolas, New York, Paris and Milan.
Galleria d'Arte Galatea, Turin.
Paolo Marinotti, Milan.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired circa 2000.

G. Di San Lazzaro, 'Hommage à Max Ernst', in XXe siècle, 1971, p. 123 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., La Galerie des Arts, Paris, 1965, no. 30, p. 8 (illustrated).
E. Quinn, Max Ernst, London, 1977, no. 406, p. 330 (illustrated).
P. Gimferrer, Max Ernst ou la dissolution de l'identité, Paris, 1979, no. 140 (illustrated).
W. Spies, Max Ernst Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3621, p. 297 (illustrated).
W. Spies, Max Ernst, Life and Work, London, 2006, p. 350 (illustrated p. 269).
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Max Ernst, December 1962 - March 1963, no. 119; this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, March - April 1963.
London, Hanover Gallery, Max Ernst, early and recent paintings and sculpture, July - August 1965, no. 21 (illustrated).
New York, The Jewish Museum, Max Ernst, Sculpture and recent painting, March - April 1966, no. 30, p. 16 (illustrated).
Venezia, Palazzo Grassi, Max Ernst: oltre la pittura, June - October 1966, no. 30 (illustrated).
Rome, Museo del Corso, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Roma, Max Ernst e i suoi amici Surrealisti, July - November 2002.
Vaduz, Kunstmuseum, Durchleuchtet : Dialog mit der Sammlung, March - May 2004, no. 11.
Vaduz, Kunstmuseum, Dialog: Europa - Amerika, June - September 2004.
Bruhl, Max Ernst Museum, Schausammlung im Wechsel, 2006.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution, September 2008 - January 2009, p. 207 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Max Ernst, Le jardin de la France, October 2009 - January 2010, p. 209 (illustrated p. 83).
Vaduz, Kunstmuseum, Von der (un) schärfe der Welt, September 2010 - January 2011.
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Max Ernst, Biographical Notes for 1962

'1962 Spring, New York. Exhibition at the Iolas Gallery. Marriage of Heaven and Earth, Distorted Song of the Earth, The Sirens Song when Reason falls Asleep, Here the Clouds are Formed and Here the Cardinals are Dying'.

The inevitable consequence of all these events was an embarrassing notoriety on the eastern shores of the Atlantic, while on the other side he was being forgotten. Children venerated him: fashionable ladies smiled on him and called him ' le beau Max': great public figures greeted him as 'Maitre', to which, he modestly replied, 'But I'm not a judge.' And he declared: 'I would rather have a single wild strawberry than all the laurels in the world'. On 28 December that same year, an exhibition of works from different periods in the artist's career was organized by young Leppein and Herr Gert von den Oesten in the holy city of Cologne, the city he had dearly loved and so frequently scandalized. And, these works were presented to the kindly gaze of a public the painter vaguely remembered, in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, the very same museum in which, so many years before, the little Max had learned to know and love Stefan Lochner. Hieronymous Bosch and the Master of St Bartholomew.' (Max Ernst, 'Notes for a Biography' E. Quinn, ed. Max Ernst, London, 1977, p. 330)

In the early 1960s Max Ernst was being feted and celebrated with major retrospective exhibitions of his work on both sides of the Atlantic. Following one at the MoMA in 1961 and a major exhibition of new works at the Alexandre Iolas Gallery in the spring of 1962, this year also saw a major travelling retrospective exhibition at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and the Zurich Kunsthaus. Ernst's response, as he wrote in his biographical notes for 1962, was to state that he 'would rather have a single wild strawberry than all the laurels in the world.'

Ci meurent les cardinaux (Here the cardinals are dying) is one of Ernst's most important paintings from this period, one of the seven paintings he singled out to list in these biographical notes for the year 1962 and a work that represents the apparent conclusion to another mystically-entitled work of the period, La naissance de cardinaux (The Birth of the Cardinals).

Comprising of a red field of textured paint shimmering with an apparently mystic light radiating around a central mandala-like vortex, Ci meurent les cardinaux is one of an increasing number of Ernst's paintings from this period to invoke a mystical sense of cosmology. Although he was never an abstract artist, Ernst had throughout the 1950s embraced a certain degree of abstraction and displayed an understanding of its principles in his work. In conjunction with this tendency and perhaps also as a response to the new satellites and the beginning of the space age at this time, Ernst began to paint pictures of the earth and the heavens, inventing new cosmologies for himself and even in 1964 publishing his most beautiful book, Maximiliana or The Illegal Practice of Astronomy. With its secret writing and its otherworldly paintings of an unknown cosmos it was a work that paid tribute to the amateur astronomer and lithographer Wilhelm Tempel (1821-1889), who in 1861 had discovered the 'planet' (actually an asteroid) Maximiliana, - the name of which held obvious associations for Ernst.

Looking like a bizarre and mysterious planet or cosmic flower propagating its seed in a strange galaxy, Ci meurent les cardinaux is a work that seems to blend this cosmological interest with a deep sense of mysticism. Like the title of another painting from this period, Marriage of Heaven and Earth of 1962 for example, which invokes an hermetic understanding of the cosmos as a mystical union between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the invocation of dying cardinals in the title of this work, along with its rich red and yellow colouring, also evokes a mystical cosmic vision. Suggestive of both yellow 'cardinal' butterflies fluttering around a plant-like vortex and - with its central stained-glass-like mandala and rich red colouring - of the red-gowned cardinals of the Catholic church, this near-abstract painting is a richly Romantic landscape of fantasy - an extension of Ernst's Surrealism into the microcosmic/macrocosmic realm of Buddhist enlightenment and modern astrophysics.