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

Où naissent les cardinaux

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Où naissent les cardinaux
signed and dated ‘max ernst 62’ (lower right); signed, dated and inscribed ‘max ernst Où naissent les cardinaux 4.V.1962’ (on the backing board)
oil on canvas
57 1/2 x 45 in. (146 x 114.5 cm.)
Painted on 4 May 1962
Estate of the artist.
Jimmy Ernst, New York (the artist’s son), by descent from the above.
Edith "Dallas" Bauman Ernst, New York, by descent from the above.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002.
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst: Werke 1954-1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3619, p. 296 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, XVIII Salon de Mai, May 1962, no. 51.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst, September – November 1969, no. 94, p. 76.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Max Ernst, November 1969 - January 1970, no. 86, p. 24.
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Max Ernst, January - March 1970, no. 106, p. 149.
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Max Ernst - Die Retrospektive, March - May 1999, no. 173, p. 232 (illustrated p. 233); this exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst, June - September 1999.
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.


‘Laurels and Strawberries,’ Max Ernst wrote as the beginning of his autobiographical note for the year 1962. 1962 was a year in which 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 was also to see a major travelling retrospective exhibition of his work at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and the Zurich Kunsthaus. Ernst's response to these plaudits was to state that he 'would rather have a single wild strawberry than all the laurels in the world.' (Max Ernst, ‘Biographical Notes’, 1962, in Werner Spies, Max Ernst Life and Work London, 2006, p. 270)

Painted in 1962, Où naissant les cardinaux (Where the Cardinals are born) is the larger of two paintings invoking cardinals in their title that rank among Ernst's most important paintings from this celebratory year. Along with the pendant painting entitled Ci meurent les cardinaux (The Cardinals are Dying) and two other even smaller works entitled more vaguely, Les éléments, ma belle, reflètent l’éclat de vos yeux and Là où naissent les canaris, it belongs to a group of four oil paintings made in 1962 in which Ernst’s work comes close to the borders of complete abstraction.

Comprising solely of a red field of textured paint shimmering with an apparently mystic light and radiating around a central mandala-like vortex, Où naissant les cardinaux is one of an increasing number of near-abstract paintings from this period to invoke a mystical sense of cosmology. Although Ernst was never to be an abstract artist, he 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 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 and inventing new cosmologies for himself; 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 this was a work that paid tribute to the amateur astronomer and lithographer Wilhelm Tempel (1821-1889), who, in 1861, had discovered the 'planet' Maximiliana. Although this ‘planet’, later turned out to be merely an asteroid, the name of this astral body was, of course, one that held obvious significance for Ernst.

Looking like a bizarre and mysterious planet or cosmic flower propagating its seed in a strange galaxy, Où naissant les cardinaux is a work that seems to blend Ernst’s developing interest in cosmology with his innately mystical imagination. 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 cardinals being born in the title of this work is one that also evokes a deep sense of personal cosmic vision. Suggestive of both yellow 'cardinal' butterflies fluttering around a plant-like vortex or of a mystical sun taking the form of a central stained-glass-like mandala, out of which, perhaps, the red-gowned cardinals of the Catholic church can be seen to cluster or emerge, this luminescent painting is a poem in red. A richly Romantic landscape of fantasy that serves as a noteworthy extension of Ernst's earlier Surrealist vision into the microcosmic/macrocosmic realm of Buddhist enlightenment and modern astrophysics.

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