MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
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MAX ERNST (1891-1976)

Le bijoutier du ciel

MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Le bijoutier du ciel
signed, dated and inscribed 'max ernst 54 le bijoutier du ciel' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 7⁄8 x 25 1⁄2 in. (81 x 64.7 cm.)
Painted in 1954
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above on 25 March 1955 and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 25 June 2008, lot 543.
Private collection, France, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, London, 2012, lot 134 ($1,222,195).
Private collection, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Max Ernst, February - March 1955, no. 18, n.p..
Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, Le Jardin de la France, October 2009 - January 2010, p. 208 (illustrated p. 59).
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. Christie's has provided a minimum price guarantee and has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold. See the Important Notices in the Conditions of Sale for more information.
This work will be included in the forthcoming volume of the Max Ernst Catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared by Werner Spies in collaboration with Sigrid Metken and Jürgen Pech.


Olivier Camu
Olivier Camu Deputy Chairman, Senior International Director


1954 was a seminal year for the Max Ernst. He and his wife Dorothea Tanning had returned to France the previous year, having spent a decade living in Arizona. Awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale of 1954, the artist now gained major public recognition and a series of important retrospective exhibitions followed. Painted during this momentous period, Le bijoutier du ciel was exhibited at Ernst’s solo show of 1955, held at the prestigious Galerie Beyeler in Basel.

It was after his return to Europe that Ernst’s paintings began to exhibit more decorative qualities, apparent in the fractured prismatic planes, varied textures and shimmering surface of Le bijoutier du ciel. Layer upon layer of paint has been applied and then partially scraped off in a grattage-like painterly technique, creating an effect of translucency, revealing grains and patterns which served as stimuli for Ernst’s ever-fertile imagination. As with a number of paintings executed during the mid-to-late 1950s, enigmatic animal forms appear alongside humanoid features to create a mysterious portrait, the ‘jeweller of the sky’ as the title indicates. In this multi-faceted, jewel-like astral landscape, the central form and that to right of it are suggestive of birds – a perennial motif in Ernst’s work, birds played a profound role in his imagination, representing liberty, spiritual freedom and often symbolizing the artist himself.

The more central and larger bird-like form is also evocative of a radiant celestial body, the ‘eye’ like a glowing sun surrounded by curving lines which suggest stellar motion. It was during this period that Ernst became increasingly concerned with depicting and interpreting the cosmos. The artist’s celestial landscapes, such as Le bijoutier du ciel, spoke to the same sense of visionary imagination he had explored in his mountainous landscapes, fantastical forests and primordial rock formations of the preceding years in Arizona. ‘When you walk through the woods keeping your eyes fixed on the ground, you will doubtless discover many wonderful, miraculous things,’ Ernst explained. ‘But when you suddenly look upwards into the sky, you are overcome by the revelation of another, equally miraculous world. Over the past century the significance of the suns, moons, constellations, nebulae, galaxies and all of outer space beyond the terrestrial zone has increasingly entered human consciousness, as it has taken root in my own work and will very probably remain there’ (Ernst, quoted in W. spies, 'An Aesthetics of Detachment,’ in W. Spies, ed., Max Ernst: A Retrospective, exh. cat., London, 1991, p. 10).

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