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

Le chant de la grenouilles (the song of the frog)

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Le chant de la grenouilles (the song of the frog)
signed and dated 'max ernst 57' (lower right); signed again and titled 'the song of the frog Max Ernst' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1957
Alexandre Iolas Gallery, New York.
Sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 December 1986, lot 76.
Barnet Hodes, Chicago.
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 2 February 2004, lot 70.
Private collection, United States; sale, Christie's, New York, 6 November 2007, lot 79.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3314, p. 139 (illustrated).
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.


One of Ernst''s finest paintings of 1957, Le chant de la grenouille (The song of the frog) is an important work that the artist made shortly before leaving his home in Arizona for the last time to return to live permanently in France. Exhibited in the spring of the year at the Alexandre Iolas Gallery in New York the painting belongs to a series of heavily encrusted and enchanted visionary landscapes painted in the aftermath of the Second World War that paradoxically seem to hint at both regeneration and paralysis.

The finest of three paintings on the theme of frogs and their song from 1957 that incorporate a particularly complex decalcomania-style technique, Le chant de la grenouille depicts the fantastical forms of a harsh vegetal landscape proliferating with such speed and intensity that it has encrusted itself into a near solid mass. Predominantly organic but also insect-like, this impenetrable forest is a profoundly alienating and unwelcoming environment. It depicts the forces of nature not, like Jean Dubuffet''s organic landscapes of this same period, as a material force of simple truth and honest virtue, and perhaps a force of healing, but more mantis-like as an ultimately predatory and devouring force. Recalling the hallucinatory forms of the figures/landscape of his celebrated 1945 painting The Temptation of St. Anthony, the mysterious faces and figures half emerging from the animated vegetation of this vine-like landscape seem tortured and trapped by their own proliferation.

Ernst had originally been inspired to paint such forest landscapes in the 1930s by the proliferation of life he had witnessed in the jungles of Indonesia in 1924. His fantastical forests and jungle landscapes symbolised for him, as they did for many of the Surrealists, the terra incognita of the human mind. In these late landscapes, this feature of his jungles and forest landscapes is perhaps less true. Although still clearly mental landscapes, in the more heavily encrusted visionary landscapes such as this work or The Twisted Song of the Earth of 1959 for example, the forms appear to have developed more autonomy. They seem less reflections of Ernst''s own unconscious mind drawn from the accidents of decalcomania and more as if, through years of creative practice in the technique, Ernst has arrived at a point where he can allow the forms of his landscapes to grow more or less where they like and to define themselves. As the title of this work suggests, it seems as if, at this stage in his career Ernst, like a psychic, is intuitively able to channel the voices of the forces of nature, and to transform them into visual and visionary form.