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

Jardin gobe-avions

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Jardin gobe-avions
signed 'max ernst' (lower right)
gouache on paper
10 7/8 x 19 7/8 in. (27.6 x 50.6 cm.)
Executed in 1935
Joseph-Berthold & Gaetane Urvater, Brussels, until at least 1959.
Galleria Galatea, Turin (no. 1682), by 1966.
Giulio Einaudi, Turin, by 1969.
Galleria Galatea, Turin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the mid-1970s.
P. Waldberg, Max Ernst, Paris, 1958, p. 291 (illustrated; dated '1934').
J. Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, London, 1967, no. 63, p. 346 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions, medium and provenance).
M. Brion, 'Max l'oiseleur', in G. di San Lazzaro, ed., XXe siècle, numéro spécial, Hommage à Max Ernst, Paris, 1971, p. 89 (dated '1934').
U.M. Schneede, The Essential Max Ernst, London, 1972, no. 303, p. 153 (illustrated p. 152).
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1929-1938, Cologne, 1979, no. 2182, p. 322 (illustrated).
Knokke-Le Zoute, Albert Plage, Casino Municipal, Max Ernst, July - August 1953, no. 68, p. 26.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Max Ernst, August - September 1956, no. 58.
Otterloo, Kröller-Müller Museum, Les grandes collection belges, Sammlung Urvater, June - September 1957, no. 37 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts, October - November 1957.
Leicester, Museum and Art Gallery, Paintings from the Urvater collection, September - October 1958, no. 28; this exhibition later travelled to York, City Art Gallery, October - November 1958; and London, Tate Gallery, November - December 1958.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Max Ernst, November - December 1959, no. 53.
Turin, Galleria Galatea, Max Ernst, October - November 1966, no. 20 (illustrated; dated '1934').
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Max Ernst, September - November 1969, no. 54, p. 75 (illustrated p. 55).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Max Ernst, November 1969 - January 1970, no. 52.
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Max Ernst, January - March 1970, no. 63, p. 148 (illustrated p. 113).
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.


‘Voracious gardens devoured in their turn by a vegetation which springs from the debris of trapped airplanes’ – Max Ernst
(Ernst, quoted in U. M. Schneede, The Essential Max Ernst, p. 153).

Created in 1935, Max Ernst’s Jardin gobe-avions (Garden Airplane-Traps) hails from the artist’s enigmatic series of paintings in which strange, colourful plant-like forms engulf the remains of a collection of flying machines that have fallen to the earth. In these dozen or so paintings, the titular ‘airplane traps’ spring from a desolate landscape reminiscent of Ernst’s early 1920s collages, their luscious bundles of brightly coloured fronds, buds, vines and flowers sparkling like jewels within the desert-like environment, glimmering in the light of an unseen sun. Ernst and his fellow Surrealists shared a deep fascination for the bizarre and uncanny characteristics of the natural world, from the cannibalistic sexual practices of the praying mantis, to the seemingly innocuous appearance of predatory plants such as the Venus fly trap. At once highly attractive and eerily threatening, the flowers in Jardin gobe-avions appear to exhibit similar characteristics, their bold, richly variegated blooms wrapping themselves hungrily around the delicate armature of the fragmented planes, ensnaring them in such a manner as to completely disable their flying capabilities, rooting their forms once again to the earth in order to consume them.

The artist may have been drawn to the concept of trapping airborne creatures by an early nineteenth-century treatise by C. J. Kresz, Aviceptologie Française, ou traité général de toutes les ruses dont on peut se servir pour prendre les oiseaux, a copy of which Ernst held in his personal library. Dating from 1820, the book gave detailed instructions as to the best methods of capturing song birds, and included illustrations of the various mechanical man-made traps the hunter could construct, each one created with the sole purpose of luring and snaring their prey with the utmost efficiency. In Jardin gobe-avions Ernst appears to play with this concept, subverting the relationship between predator and prey by creating a scenario in which the organic plant forms lie in wait for the unsuspecting, mechanical aircraft to pass overhead, drawing them to their doom with the dazzling hues of their blooms. For the artist this inversion of power dynamics was particularly striking, as the airplane had been so intertwined with destruction and death in his imagination, ever since his experiences of aerial warfare during the First World War. Here, the bodies of these flying machines are torn asunder by the force of a crash landing and the tendrils of the plants that ensnare them, fractured into thin strips of metal that fold and twist like paper under the weight of the encroaching carnivorous plants, their threatening nature neutralised in an instant.

Considered together, the paintings in the Jardin gobe-avions series explore the evolution of not only these strange, predatory plants, their forms growing, multiplying and diversifying from picture to picture, but also the gradual adaptation of the surrounding environment in response. Indeed, as the series developed, Ernst’s ‘gardens’ also became increasingly complex in structure, divided into strange, geometric compartments that appear connected in an impossible maze, closing off any possible escape routes for the flying machines. In the present composition, however, these walls are merely suggested and hinted at, denoted by a ghostly structure that rises behind the debris of the airplane, almost like a mirage within the desert landscape. Showcasing similarities with the stepped structures of the artist’s La ville entière paintings in texture and effect, most likely achieved through his favoured grattage technique, this form suggests containment rather than shelter, adding to the disquieting atmosphere of the scene. As such, the Jardin gobe-avions series may be seen to lead directly into the monstrous, untameable wild jungles that marked Ernst’s compositions of the late 1930s and 1940s, where dense groves of foliage, flowers and vines interspersed by claw-like forms and unsettling hybrid creatures threaten the world of man.

One of only a dozen paintings created by Ernst of this enigmatic, menacing subject, the present Jardin gobe-avions appears at auction for the first time in its history, having remained in the same private collection for the last fifty years.

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