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

Don Juan et Faustroll

MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Don Juan et Faustroll
signed and dated 'max ernst 51' (lower right); signed, dated and titled 'DON JUAN ET FAUSTROLL max ernst 51' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
56 1/8 x 43 1/4 in. (142.5 x 109.8 cm.)
Painted in 1951
Aram D. Mouradian, Paris.
Ragnar Moltzau, Oslo, until at least 1958.
Maurice d'Arquian [Galerie Helios Art], Brussels.
Private collection, Belgium, by whom acquired from the above in October 1959, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, The Art of the Surreal, 4 February 2015, lot 105.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
P. Waldberg, Max Ernst, Paris, 1958, p. 437 (illustrated).
S. Takiguchi, Max Ernst, Tokyo, 1960, p. 57 (illustrated).
W. Spies, S. & G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, no. 2877, p. 294 (illustrated).
New York, Alexander Iolas Gallery, Max Ernst, Dancers Under the Starry Sky, November - December 1951, no. 43.
Houston, Contemporary Arts Association, Max Ernst, January - February 1952, no. 18.
Venice, La Biennale di Venezia, XXVII. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte, June - October 1954, no. 20 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Mouradian-Vallotton-Loeb, Max Ernst, June - July 1956, no. 25.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Max Ernst, August - September 1956, no. 72.
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Max Ernst, November - December 1956, no. 27.
Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Bosch, Goya et le Fantastique, May - July 1957, no. 271, p. 95.
London, The Tate Gallery, From Cézanne to Picasso: The Moltzau Collection, October - November 1958, no. 30.
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.


Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale


Painted in 1951, Don Juan et Faustroll is a large and important painting first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1954, where Max Ernst was awarded the Grand Prix for painting. Rich in detail and incorpporating a variety of figurative and abstract painterly techniques, it is a work that both draws on the Native American–derived style of the artist’s years in Sedona, Arizona and one that anticipates the more mystical astronomy and alchemy-infused work that would characterise his ‘Maximiliana’ years following his return to Europe in 1954.
In 1950, Ernst took his American wife Dorothea Tanning on their first voyage together to Europe, visiting specifically Paris, the South of France and Belgium where he had many friends and supporters. In this first visit to the continent since the war, Ernst was keen to re-establish contact with his many avant-garde friends and colleagues who had survived the conflict and to explore the possibility of returning to France for good. What he found was a Europe that was at turns both unchanged and completely unrecognisable. Ravaged by war and the enduring destruction and poverty that it had brought about, Ernst found his former homeland still in a state of disruption and trauma. In Paris especially, he felt that the mood had irrevocably changed.
The charm and surprise of the Surrealist’s ‘chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella’ no longer seemed relevant in a world that had known such extreme and devastating absurdities during the previous ten years. The prevailing aesthetic of the age was now the grim Existentialist vision of writers such as Sartre, Beckett and Camus and the art that seemed most relevant was the Informel of Fautrier and Wols, the art brut of Dubuffet and the lonely, isolated figures of Giacometti. There seemed to be no place for the arcane mysteries of Ernst’s magical landscapes and figures, nor was there any practical possibility of he and Tanning being able to make a living in Europe at this time. As a result, the couple set sail back to America towards the end of 1950, leaving Ernst feeling more than ever like an exile.
‘I came back to France,’ Ernst later recalled, ‘at a time when... the terribles simplificateurs were busy praising only abstract art and condemning Surrealist art, especially if it was at all figurative, as too literary, so that it appeared to be irretrievably discredited’ (M. Ernst quoted in E. Roditi, More Dialogues on Art, Santa Barbara, 1984, p. 61). In the face of such criticism, the artist created a number of magical landscapes, which, like the present work, are peopled with what appear to be enigmatic yet playfully abstracted anthropomorphic figures. Defiantly based upon the artist’s imagination and the subconscious visions that had always guided his art, Ernst’s compositions of this time reveal an undiminished, unfailing poeticism and embody the ever-evolving, eminently powerful creativity that defines his art.
Painted soon after his return to Arizona, Don Juan et Faustroll is a defiant and absurdist mixture of abstraction and figuration that draws on one of Ernst’s core influences, the pataphysical imagination of Alfred Jarry. The title of the painting refers simultaneously to two of the most important European literary figures of the 19th Century, Don Juan and Faust, and also, in its the reference to ‘Faustroll’ to Jarry’s absurdist figure of Dr Faustroll, drawn from the French Symbolist author’s novel Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll pataphysicien: Roman néo-scientifique suivi de Spéculations (Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician). Dr Faustroll (an allusion to Dr Faustus as well as to Goethe’s Faust) was a comical and imaginary scientist. He was also a pataphysician and as the faust-troll, one of Jarry’s examples of antinomy. An antinomy, in pataphysics, is a self-contradicting entity and it is this innate double-sidedness to things that appears to be consistently expressed in Ernst’s Don Juan et Faustroll.
Everything about this picture appears to be split into two opposing halves. The painting itself is segregated into two distinct parts in the form of a division of heaven and earth in a manner common to much hermetic and alchemical illustration. In the top half, an abstract constellation of subtle and colourful form has been constructed from swirling spirals that sprout from the hands of one of two figures shown below, standing in a semi-abstract, semi-figurative realm that recalls an underground cavern. Here, amidst a rich, dark, prism-like world of reflected colour and light, the pair of figures with mask-like faces made from geometric forms in the manner of Ernst’s more recent, Native American-inspired paintings, appear to create the firework-like display above them. But while one figure appears to have the magic gift of fire in their fingers, the other fusses about keeping a sequence of candles alight, worriedly attempting to light one from the other. These two figures, arguably the Don Juan and Faustroll of the title, are, like their names, also opposites, one colourful and smiling, the other monochrome and sad-faced. In front of them, a third figure emerges in another divided picture that, forming a picture-within-a-picture, appears to reinforce a pataphysical sense of the scene as a whole being a kaleidoscopic portrait with many layers open to multiple readings.
The surface of the painting comes alive in a network of thin, interlaced lines, each raised off the canvas in a manner that resembles the leading of a stained glass window. Achieved by delicately dribbling paint onto the bare canvas from a height to create slender fluid marks that loop around one another, these force lines imbue the scene with a bold sense of energy and motion. Indeed, Ernst plays with a number of different painterly techniques in Don Juan et Faustroll, incorporating sections of diffused spray in certain areas, adding web-like textures to others, demonstrating not only his continued passion for semi-automatic techniques, but also the more experimental approach to the highly familiar medium of paint that marks his art during these years.
These experiments would prove fruitful for Ernst – at the Venice Biennale in 1954, where this painting was exhibited, he was awarded its highest honour, the Grand Prix for painting, while his friend Hans Arp won the same for sculpture and fellow Surrealist Joan Miró won the prize for drawing. This award gave Ernst the long-overdue international recognition he had always sought and with it, for the first time in his life, a degree of financial stability. After several years in the wilderness, he would now be able to make a life for himself in Europe. Having returned once again to France in 1953, he and Tanning now set about looking for a house in the Tourain. ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ Ernst said around this time, ‘I grant the painter the right to speak, to laugh, to take a stand and to draw upon all his hallucinatory faculties. But I absolutely refuse to live like a Tachist’ (M. Ernst quoted in Max Ernst, exh. cat., Knokke, 1953, p. 30).

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