SALE 2784 / LOT 311
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  MAX ERNST (1891-1976)
Temptation of St. Anthony

Price Realized

Lot Description

Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Temptation of St. Anthony
signed, dated and titled 'max ernst 1945 Temptation of St. Anthony (sketch)' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
10 1/8 x 6 in. (25.8 x 15.3 cm.)
Painted in 1945

Pre-Lot Text

Property from a Private East Coast Collection


William S. Lieberman, New York (by 1960).
Little Art Gallery, Newark.
Private collection, New York; sale, Christie's, London, 4 February 2009, lot 38.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.


J. Russell, Max Ernst, Life and Work, New York, 1967, no. 73 (illustrated).
W. Spies and S. and G. Metken, Max Ernst, Werke 1939-1953, Cologne, 1987, p. 101, no. 2486 (illustrated).


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1960 (on loan).

Lot Notes

This decalcomania oil painting is the finest surviving study for The Temptation of St. Anthony (Spies, no. 2487) now housed in the Wilhelm Lembruck Museum in Duisburg. The temptation of St. Anthony--a devout third century Christian hermit living in the Egyptian desert who was tempted in mind and body by all the worldly pleasures he had renounced--is a common theme in Western art. Such religious themes had little place amongst the Surrealists, however, and Ernst's novel adaptation of the fantastical creatures and figures produced by decalcomania to this age-old religious theme was in fact prompted by an international art competition.

In 1945 Hollywood's Loew Lewin Production company organized a prestigious art competition amongst twelve of the leading avant-garde artists of the day to paint a picture on the theme of the Temptation of St. Anthony for use in a forthcoming film version of Maupassant's story of societal ambition and self-corruption Bel Ami. The participating artists in the 'Bel Ami International Art Competition' were Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Louis Guglielmi, Horace Pippin, Abraham Rattner, Stanley Spencer and Dorothea Tanning. Each participant, save Leonor Fini, who failed to produce a painting, was paid $500 for their work and Ernst, who was judged the winner by the 'grand jury' of Alfred H Barr, Jr., Marcel Duchamp and Sidney Janis, received $3,000 for his entry.

Deriving from figures suggested to him semi-consciously by the decalcomania technique, Ernst's Temptation of St. Anthony was in fact one of the most consciously determined of all his decalcomania works, being inspired not only by the specific theme of St. Anthony's Temptation but also by Matthias Grünewald's take on the subject in his Isenheim Altarpiece in the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace. It was Grünewald's precedent amongst the many previous treatments of this subject that determined Ernst's final vision. In the present work, Ernst has chosen to concentrate more on the sexual nature of the 'Temptation.' Presenting a towering cascade (absent in the final work) of naked female figures and human skeletons emerging from a deep forest of decalcomania pattern to form an hallucinatory-like image of sex and death, this early version is a rich and powerful psychological image of a gothic nightmare.

Mr. William Slattery Lieberman, the first recorded owner of the present lot, was the first director of the Department of Drawings at The Museum of Modern Art--to which he loaned The Temptation of St. Anthony--and later Chairman of the 20th Century Art Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Department Information

Impressionist & Modern Art