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Max Ernst

La forêt

oil on canvas
1925
100 x 81 cm / 39 3/4 x 31 7/8 in.

In The Forest the artist probably placed the canvas over a rough surface (perhaps wood), scraped oil paint over the canvas, and then rubbed, scraped, and overpainted the area of the trees. The subject of a dense forest appears often in Ernst’s work of the late twenties and early thirties. These canvases generally contain a wall-like group of trees, sometimes a solar disk or an apparition of a bird hovering amid the foliage. In this painting, a mysterious structure appears over the trees, suggesting a cloud or the sky. Ernst’s attitude toward the forest as the sublime embodiment of both enchantment and terror can be traced to his experiences in the German forest as a child. His essay “Les Mystères de la forêt,” published in Minotaure in 1934, vividly conveys his fascination with the various kinds of forests. In his text, Ernst describes the forests of Oceania in these words: “They are, it seems, savage and impenetrable, black and russet, extravagant, secular, swarming, diametrical, negligent, ferocious, fervent, and likeable, without yesterday or tomorrow…Naked, they dress only in their majesty and their mystery”. In the catalogue of the exhibition in Munich and Berlin 1979, Ulrich Bischoff wrote about this painting: "The single pole-like tree stumps, which are thicker around the middle, are a direct conversion of motifs from the pencil frottages of the Histoire Naturelle into the medium of oil. It is not only the format which is responsible for the aura of monumentality and quiet. The stumps seem like heavy sculptures, arranged in a group."

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