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

A Maiden, a Widow and a Wife

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
A Maiden, a Widow and a Wife
signed and dated 'max ernst 56' (lower right); signed, dated and titled '"a maiden a widow and a wife max ernst 1956"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36¼ x 30 in. (92 x 76 cm.)
Painted in 1956
Alexandre Iolas Gallery, New York.
William N. Copley, New York; his sale, Sotheby's, New York, 5 November 1979, lot l52.
Private collection, USA, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 25 June 2002, lot 197.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
E. Petrová, Max Ernst, Prague, 1965, no. 61.
J. Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, New York, 1967 (illustrated pl. 106).
E. Quinn, Max Ernst, Boston, 1977, no. 360, p. 291 (illustrated).
W. Spies, Max Ernst, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3165, p. 63 (illustrated).
New York, Alexandre Iolas Gallery, 1957.
London, The Tate Gallery, Max Ernst, September - October 1961, no. 126.
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Max Ernst, December 1962 - March 1963, no. 97 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, March - April 1963.
New York, The Jewish Museum, Max Ernst, Sculpture and Recent Paintings, March - April 1966, no. 5 (illustrated).
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Max Ernst, April - May 1971, no. XXIV (illustrated).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim, Max Ernst: A Retrospective, February - April 1975, no. 248 (illustrated); this exhibition also travelled to Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Max Ernst, May - August 1975, no. 283 (illustrated).
New York, Iolas Gallery - Brooks Jackson, inc., Max Ernst, May 1976.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution, September 2008 - January 2009.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


A Maiden, A Widow and a Wife is one of Max Ernst's most important paintings from 1956. It was listed as such by the artist in his autobiographical notes along with the paintings Albertus Magnus now in the Menil Collection, Houston, and Messalina as a Child. As the English titles of these works suggest, all three of these paintings were executed in Sedona, Arizona where Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning spent the winter of 1956.

Ernst and Tanning had left the United States to return to Europe in 1953 and had settled in Huimes near Chinon in the Touraine in 1955. Their temporary return to Sedona in the winter of 1956 was as a prelude to an important exhibition of Ernst's work held at the Alexander Iolas Gallery in New York in the spring of 1957. A Maiden, A Widow and a Wife belongs to a group of works from this period that, like his great painting Father Rhine of 1953 for example, which Ernst painted on the occasion of his first return to Germany since the war, are a fusion of flat flowing form and richly-textured decalcomania reminiscent of his earlier paintings of the red-rock Arizona landscape.

In A Maiden, A Widow and a Wife three distinct decalcomania forms appear isolated against the flat planes and lilting flowing, water-suggestive lines of a landscape-like background to establish a bizarre organic world seemingly populated by strange and complex amoeba-like forms. In many respects an abstraction, created in America at height of the New York School's popularity, this painting is, however, so rooted in nature through the Arp-like shapes of its forms and the myriad of strongly organic detail defined by its decalcomania imprints, that it evokes a clearly figurative, if distinctly otherworldly reality.

As Max Ernst famously said of his art, 'My work is like my conduct: not harmonious in the sense of the classical revolutionaries. Rebellious, heterogeneous, full of contradictions, it is unacceptable to the specialists - in art, in culture, in conduct, in logic, in morality. But it does have the ability to enchant my accomplices: the poets, the pataphysicians, and a few illiterates' (Max Ernst quoted in Max Ernst Dream and Revolution, exh. cat, Lousiana Museum of Art, Copenhagen, 2009, p. 260).