The nightingale echo

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Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) by Max Ernst.

Another discovery from Charles Henri Ford’s View: Parade of the Avant-Garde. Sidney Janis devotes several pages to one of the earliest Surrealist paintings by Max Ernst, Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale. After describing the picture in detail he makes this comparison:

In 1935, Dalí painted a Nostalgic Echo, obviously of this very picture by Max Ernst. Eleven years divided the two paintings; still the lapse of time has not interrupted a continuity of idea which takes place between them. For now we have the next sequence of events. Ernst’s adolescent with the knife appears again in the Dalí, her gesture identical but free of her earlier emotional tension. We find her contentedly skipping rope, her contour and movement echoed in the belfry as a ringing bell. And here it is the nightingale that is menaced. It alights, and as it does, a shadow moves toward it in the form of a snare. This shadow-snare is thrown by the girl and the rope. Finally, the nimble-footed man no longer leaps the rooftops—he is brought to earth to brood in the shadow of his own senility. Relegated to a humble corner of the foreground portal, he is a sorry sight, while in the belfry-tower which repeats the image of the portal, the feminine form triumphantly dominates the aperture, swinging against the sky. The play of ideas in the two pictures is like a Surrealist game in which one participant carries on where the other leaves off.

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Nostalgic Echo (1935) by Salvador Dalí.

Dalí’s paintings frequently quoted other artists but seldom, if ever, the work of his contemporaries so I’m sceptical that Nostalgic Echo is a response or a sequel to the Ernst. But paranoiac-critical-Sherlock Holmes would agree that the comparison is a suggestive one.

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Nostalgic Echo (detail).

A more obvious echo for Dalí is Giorgio de Chirico’s The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (below), where we find a similar girl at play among plastered walls, arched portals and elongated shadows. Three paintings, and three stages in a narrative whose events rearrange themselves depending on the order in which they are viewed.

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The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914) by Giorgio de Chirico.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Ernst’s favourites
Viewing View
Max Ernst album covers
Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier

Max Ernst’s favourites

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The cover for the Max Ernst number of View magazine (April, 1942) that appears in Charles Henri Ford’s View: Parade of the Avant-Garde was one I didn’t recall seeing before. This was a surprise when I’d spent some time searching for back issues of the magazine. The conjunction of Ernst with Buer, one of the perennially popular demons drawn by Louis Le Breton for De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, doubles the issue’s cult value in my eyes. I don’t know whether the demon was Ernst’s choice but I’d guess so when many of the De Plancy illustrations resemble the hybrid creatures rampaging through Ernst’s collages. Missing from the Ford book is the spread below which uses more De Plancy demons to decorate lists of the artist’s favourite poets and painters. I’d have preferred a selection of favourite novelists but Ford was a poet himself (he also co-wrote an early gay novel with Parker Tyler, The Young and Evil), and the list is still worth seeing.

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Poets: Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Hölderlin, Alfred Jarry, Edgar Allan Poe, George Crabbe, Guillaume Apollinaire, Walt Whitman, Comte de Lautréamont, Robert Browning, Arthur Rimbaud, William Blake, Achim von Arnim, Victor Hugo, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lewis Carroll, Novalis, Heinrich Heine, Solomon (presumably the author of the Song of Solomon).

Painters: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Giovanni Bellini, Hieronymus Bosch, Matthias Grünewald, Albrecht Altdorfer, Georges Seurat, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Baldung, Vittore Carpaccio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Cosimo Tura, Carlo Crivelli, Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Rousseau, Francesco del Cossa, Piero di Cosimo, NM Deutsch (Niklaus Manuel), Vincent van Gogh.

I’ve filled out the names since some of the typography isn’t easy to read. Some of the choices are also uncommon, while one of them—NM Deutsch—is not only a difficult name to search for but the attribution has changed in recent years. The list of poets contains few surprises but it’s good to see that Poe made an impression on Ernst; the choice of painters is less predictable. Bruegel, Bosch and Rousseau are to be expected, and the same goes for the German artists—Grünewald, Baldung—whose work is frequently grotesque or erotic. But I wouldn’t have expected so many names from the Italian Renaissance, and Seurat is a genuine surprise. As for Ernst’s only living contemporary, Giorgio de Chirico, this isn’t a surprise at all but it reinforces De Chirico’s importance. If you removed Picasso from art history De Chirico might be the most influential painter of the 20th century; his Metaphysical works had a huge impact on the Dada generation, writers as well as artists, and also on René Magritte who was never a Dadaist but who lost interest in Futurism when he saw a reproduction of The Song of Love (1914). Picasso’s influence remains rooted in the art world while De Chirico’s disquieting dreams extend their shadows into film and literature, so it’s all the more surprising that this phase of his work was so short lived. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Viewing View
De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal
Max Ernst album covers
Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier

Max Ernst album covers

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The Road To Ruin (1970) by John & Beverley Martyn. Art: Un Semaine de Bonté (1934).

Having already looked at cover art featuring the work of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, a similar post for Max Ernst seemed inevitable. I did search for Ernst cover art after the Dalí post but at the time there were fewer examples. As usual there may be more than these since Discogs is the main search tool and they (or the albums) don’t always credit the artists. Despite having several books of Ernst’s work I’ve not been able to identify all the artwork so the Ernst-heads out there are welcome to fill in the gaps.

The Road To Ruin was John Martyn’s fourth album, and the second he recorded with wife Beverley. I’m surprised that this is the earliest example, I’d have expected a classical album or two to have predated it.

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Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques) / Vorisek’s Symphony In D Major (1971); New Philharmonia Orchestra, Michael Bialoguski. Art: Bottled Moon (1955).

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Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók (1976); Tatiana Troyanos, Siegmund Nimsgern, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez. Art: The Eye of Silence (1943–44).

Bluebeard’s Castle is my favourite opera, and The Eye of Silence is my favourite Ernst painting, so this is a dream conjunction even if the match doesn’t work as well as it did for the cover of The Crystal World by JG Ballard. One to seek out.

Continue reading “Max Ernst album covers”

Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie

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The title of this 10-minute film translates as Maximiliana or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy which is also the name of an art book created by Max Ernst in 1964. The film was a collaboration between Ernst and filmmaker Peter Schamoni, the subject being German astronomer and lithographer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel (1821–1889). Tempel’s astronomy was “illegal” because he was regarded as an amateur by other astronomers which meant he was denied permission to name his discoveries. Maximiliana was the name Tempel and physicist Carl August von Steinheil decided on for an asteroid that Tempel discovered in 1861. This was deemed unacceptable so the asteriod was given the name Cybele instead (now 65 Cybele).

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Some of this is related in Schamoni’s film but you’ll need an understanding of German to appreciate the detail. The film is worth a look for other reasons, notably some shots of Ernst filling sheets of paper with the curious hieroglyphs that cover the surfaces of some of his later paintings. These hieroglyphs also feature in the Tempel book, and one of them appears in the film as an animated figure. Peter Schamoni made a number of art films including an excellent feature-length documentary about Max Ernst in 1991. That’s also on YouTube but untranslated so you’ll need some good German (and French) to appreciate it.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier

Dreams That Money Can Buy

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Max Ernst.

The posts this week have all followed a Surrealist theme so I feel compelled to draw attention to the DVD-quality copy of Hans Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) at the Internet Archive. As mentioned before, Richter’s film is one of the key works of Surrealist cinema, made at the time when the art movement had been overwhelmed by the war in Europe but was finding a brief resurgence of interest in the United States. Hitchcock had drafted Salvador Dalí to design the dream sequences in Spellbound two years earlier which may have helped Richter to raise the funds for a colour feature film. The budget was low but the production values are a lot higher than other experimental films of the time, and Richter was able to find in New York a roster of world-class collaborators including Max Ernst, Paul Bowles, Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Alexander Calder.

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The seven artists provide (and in Ernst’s case, perform in) the dreams that lead character Joe is selling to cover his rent. Fernand Léger’s contribution is a song sequence, The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart, about love among the showroom dummies, while Marcel Duchamp’s spinning discs are given another outing accompanied by music from John Cage. Dreams That Money Can Buy is a fascinating film that’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the art of this period. It’s also a film to which Kenneth Anger owes a small debt: the sleeping woman in Ernst’s Desire sequence is seen at one point swallowing a golden ball that hovers above her mouth, a trick that Anger later borrowed for Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

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Also at the Internet Archive are three further Richter films: two short works, Rhythmus 21 (1921) and Filmstudie (1925), and also Ghosts Before Breakfast (1927), an inventive experimental piece using cut-up imagery, simple animation and trick photography.

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La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier
Entr’acte by René Clair