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

Le toréador

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Le toréador
signed and dated 'max ernst 1930' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 x 23¾ in. (81.3 x 60.3 cm.)
Painted in 1930
Private collection, by whom acquired directly from the artist in the early 1930s.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 5 December 1973, lot 90.
Galerie Agora, Paris.
Private collection, Paris, by 1979.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 29 November 1988, lot 80.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
L'Oeil, no. 223, February 1974, p. 35 (illustrated).
W. Spies, Max Ernst, Oeuvre-Katalog, Werke 1929-1938, Cologne, 1979, no. 1698, p. 69 (illustrated).
Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, Surrealität - Bild Realität, December 1974 - February 1975; this exhibition later travelled to Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, February - April 1975. Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art, Max Ernst, April - May 1977, no. 77 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Kobe, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, June - July 1977.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Max Ernst. Retrospektive, February - April 1979, no. 203 (illustrated p. 291); this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Nationalgalerie, May - July 1979.
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. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.


Painted in 1930, Le toréador is one of a series of paintings of seemingly bizarre constructed personages standing alone in empty landscapes, that Max Ernst created in the immediate aftermath of finishing his epic collage novel La femme 100 têtes (The hundred heads/headless woman). Recalling the strange empty desert landscapes with low horizons that had distinguished many of his works of the early 1920s, these paintings made use of a variety of techniques to create bizarre, often anthropomorphic characters and seemingly figurative constructions that hovered on the borderlines between abstraction and figuration, collage and painting, portrait and still-life.

'By 1930', Ernst wrote of this period, 'after having furiously and methodically composed my novel La femme 100 têtes I was visited almost daily by Loplop, Bird Superior, a private phantom very much attached and devoted to me' (Max Ernst, Cahiers d'Art , Max Ernst edition, Paris, 1937, p. 24). Loplop - a shamanic bird-figure, talisman and alter-ego of the artist was a mysterious personage who had first emerged from the darkness of Ernst's Forest paintings in the late 1920s. Recognising and naming this personal archetype, Ernst came to employ Loplop as kind of creative aide in the early 1930s and in a number of works entitled Loplop présente... (Loplop introduces...) to use him to present or showcase his paintings. In these works the bird-headed Loplop held up Ernst's work as part figure and part easel, upon which Ernst's picture-within-a picture was displayed. A totemic figure who had emerged from the depths of Ernst's subconscious through the medium of his artistic practice, Loplop was of course part artwork himself, and so the ambiguity between the work being presented and its seeming to form a part of Loplop's body was entirely appropriate.

Reinvoking a sense of the ambiguous constructed landscapes filled with grattage (shell-flowers that had distinguished Ernst's paintings of the late 1920s), Le toréador draws on the same pictorial language and variety of technique to create a clear figure standing with a red cape in a mysterious geometric landscape. Most of Ernst's paintings from 1930, like Le toréador are distinguished by the thick heavily textured use of paint Ernst has applied with which to render his images. Many are also characterized by the image of a picture-within-a-picture, often accompanied by an easel-like Loplop presenting from above or within the picture itself. Central to all these works is also the collage-like manner of assemblage and the frequent, near decorative appearance within them of Ernst's 'grattage' coquillage shell-flowers.

Ernst's manner of constructing these paintings was founded on a gradual process of build-up rooted in the abstract chaos provided by the grattage technique. As in the graphic medium of frottage, random patterns of colour were established by painting several layers of different colours onto a canvas, and then scraping these layers off while the canvas rested over a textured surface. From the myriad of patterns made by the scraping marks, forms would suggest themselves to Ernst which he would refine until a complete picture began to declare itself. The shell-flowers, for example, were made by a sequential spiraling scraping that generated their ammonite-like form.

In Le toréador a constructed figure, somewhat reminiscent of some of Giorgio de Chrico's part-furniture/part mannequin philosophers has seeming grown from a coquillage-type landscape. The painting is one of a group oils from 1930 founded on a similar theme. Several versions of L'homme et la femme along with Les papillons and ultimately perhaps Loplop de mauvaise humeur depict similar easel-type figures seemingly emerging from the abstracted patterns, forms and constructions of Ernst's painting at this time. Eerie, amorphous but somehow also noble and defiant, Ernst's 'Toreador' stands in this seemingly fertile desert landscape littered with the painterly growth of shell-flowers, like one of Picasso's figures on the beach at Dinard or Yves Tanguy's amorphous undersea figures as a powerful totem of a unique world of mystery and imagination.