Artwork Detail

L’oeil du silence (The Eye of Silence)
German, 1891–1976
Oil on canvas
43 1/4 x 56 1/4 "
University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946
WU 3786
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
An important figure in the European avant-garde after World War I, the German Surrealist artist Max Ernst painted this phantasmagoric landscape while living in exile in the United States during World War II. Influenced by the theories of the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, Ernst and his fellow Surrealists considered the repression of the human unconscious the root of the chaos of modern life. Ernst incorporated into the composition of his artworks elements of chance considered to liberate the artist’s unconscious. In this work he used the technique of decalcomania, in which a layer of paint is applied to a smooth surface, such as a piece of glass, and then transferred onto another surface. Here the impression onto canvas left arbitrary patterns and textures, which Ernst reworked to resemble rock formations or the nascent forms of animals, plants, and architecture. Marked by a frozen, even uncanny sensibility, Ernst’s painting suggests imagery and emotions stored in the human psyche while also evoking the artist’s own experiences of violence, dislocation, and alienation during the war. [Permanent collection label, 2017]