MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république 24 x 19 3/4 in (61 x 49.7 cm) (Painted in 1960)

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Lot 25
Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république 24 x 19 3/4 in (61 x 49.7 cm)

US$ 400,000 - 600,000
£ 300,000 - 440,000

Impressionist & Modern Art

16 Nov 2016, 16:00 EST

New York

MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république
signed and dated 'max ernst/ 60' (lower right); signed, dated and inscribed 'Je suis une femme, vous/ êtes un homme, sommes/ nous la REPUBLIQUE/ max ernst/ 1960' (to the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 19 3/4 in (61 x 49.7 cm)
Painted in 1960


  • Provenance
    The artist's studio.
    Dorothea Tanning, by inheritance from the above.
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    W. Spies and S. and G. Metken, Max Ernst, werke 1954- 1963, Cologne, 1998, no. 3506 (illustrated p.236 and titled Ohne Titel).

    'The world throws off its cloak of darkness, it offers to our horrified and enchanted eyes the dramatic spectacle of its nudity, and we mortals have no choice but to cast off our blindness and greet the rising suns, moons and sea levels'
    Max Ernst, Histoire naturelle, Cologne, 1965

    This brooding work was painted in France in 1960, probably in the house that Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning shared at Huismes in the Loire Valley. Despite the greenery of the French countryside the composition clearly looks back to the rocky red landscape, almost lunar in its strangeness, of the Arizona desert near Sedona. Max and Dorothea had first visited Sedona in 1943, later building a house and studio there. They returned regularly even after they moved permanently to Europe in 1953, and the remarkable landscape continued to make its presence felt. John Russell described the appeal: 'Arizona offered isolation, a celestial climate, a way of life that was both economical and free from suburban constraints. It offered the inspiration of supreme, natural beauty... Few things are more stirring than the fantastic forms and the irrational coloring of the mountains around Sedona. In the mid-1940s life and landscape in that region had an uncorrupted quality which made Arizona a Promised Land in which a new life could be begun and an old one discarded... and although Max Ernst had never been a landscape painter, in the ordinary sense, it was deeply moving for him to come upon a landscape which had precisely the visionary quality that he had sought for on canvas.' (J. Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work, London, 1967, p. 140).

    The mystery inherent in Je suis une femme... recalls Ernst's lifelong absorption in the paintings of the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich. The heavily robed bird-figures to the left of the composition and the crepuscular cast of the deep red tones echo Friedrich's wandering philosophers, for example in the A walk at dusk (circa 1830-35; Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum). As Max himself noted, 'The fact is that I've always had Friedrich's paintings and ideas more or less consciously in mind, almost from the day I started painting' (quoted in W. Spies (ed.), Max Ernst: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1991, p. 341). Ernst's fantasy landscapes are often used to represent his inner world: Casper David Friedrich's dictum could equally have been spoken by his twentieth century compatriot: 'Close your physical eye, so that you see your painting first of all with the eye of the spirit. Then bring out into the light what you saw in the darkness, so that it may react inward upon others' (Friedrich quoted in U.M. Schneede, The Essential Max Ernst, London, 1972, p. 105).

    The late 1950s and early 1960s were tremendously productive for Ernst. Following the award of the Grand Prix for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1954 his work was subject to a number of high profile exhibitions and retrospectives, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1961 and also in Paris, London, Zurich and Cologne. These selections from every period of his career to date allowed Ernst to re-evaluate his earlier work, much of which he hadn't seen for many years, to revisit many of his favorite questions and concerns, and to approach the canvas with a renewed vigor. With Je suis une femme... he made a totemic image which combines the figure of Loplop, his birdman alter-ego, sheltering in the dark wood, reminiscent of works from the 1920s and 30s. Birds had always held a special place in Max's mythology. This was perhaps derived from his exploration of the woods around his childhood in Brühl. From the mid-1920s, perhaps under the influence of Miró, this evolved into the character of Loplop, a symbol of spiritual freedom and a guide to the labyrinthine forest of the unconscious mind.

    In the present work Loplop and a companion look up from a glowering grattage landscape to observe the eclipse of a glowing planet by a cosmic flower. Although it was always present in his work, for example in Paysage avec soleil, one of his earliest extant Expressionist works (1909, Private Collection) this delight in heavenly bodies was very much a central theme of the postwar years. This was the age of Sputnik and the space race: 'When you walk through the woods keeping your eyes fixed on the ground, you will doubtless discover many wonderful, miraculous things. 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 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' (Max Ernst quoted in W. Spies (ed.), Max Ernst: A Retrospective, Munich, 1991, p. 10).

    Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république is listed in the catalogue raisonné of Ernst's work as Ohne titel [untitled]. The work had remained in Dorothea's collection and then by descent in her family until its appearance here, so scholars were unaware of the flamboyant title inscription on the reverse of the canvas. It is hard however to discern any additional resonance from this new information: Ernst's titles are quixotic and were often created independently, almost as much works of art as the paintings they embellish. He describes the process in his treatise La nudité de la femme est plus sage que l'enseignement du philosophe (1959): after creating a work he was 'haunted by the picture, and this obsession does not leave me until the title appears as if by magic.' (M. Ernst, Ecritures, Paris, 1959 [repr. 1970], pp. 336). A chance encounter, an overheard phrase or a stray image could trigger the naming, a Surrealist exercise as much as automatic drawing or indeed the technique of grattage itself.
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république 24 x 19 3/4 in (61 x 49.7 cm) (Painted in 1960)
MAX ERNST (1891-1976) Je suis une femme, vous êtes un homme, sommes nous la république 24 x 19 3/4 in (61 x 49.7 cm) (Painted in 1960)
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