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Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale

Max Ernst
(French, born Germany. 1891–1976)

1924. Oil on wood with painted wood elements and frame, 27 1/2 x 22 1/2 x 4 1/2" (69.8 x 57.1 x 11.4 cm)

A red wooden gate affixed to the painted surface opens onto a painted scene dominated by blue sky. At left, a female figure brandishes a small knife; another falls limp in a swoon; a man atop the roof carries off a third, his hand outstretched to grab a real knob fastened to the frame. The title of the work (inscribed at the base), was inspired by a fever dream the young Max Ernst experienced while in bed with measles.

As Ernst recalled in third-person, the dream was “provoked by an imitation-mahogany panel opposite his bed, the grooves of the wood taking successively the aspect of an eye, a nose, a bird’s head, a menacing nightingale, a spinning top, and so on.” A poem Ernst penned shortly before making this work begins, “At nightfall, at the outskirts of the village, two children are threatened by a nightingale.”

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Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale

Max Ernst (French, born Germany. 1891–1976)