Glenn Lowry Curator Anne Umland.
Anne Umland: I always like to think about this picture as a “threshold painting.” It's like a portal into a different world. If you look down at the lower-left corner, there's this wonderful little painted red gate with hinges on it that Ernst has, in fact, permanently nailed open. This provides an invitation to us to look beyond that gate and into the scene behind it, where you see a series of deeply mysterious things, buildings, figures that have no sort of logical connection to one another.
Glenn Lowry: Ernst said this fantastical scene came to him in a dream. He embraced collage as a strategy for exploring the irrational, by combining disparate images and, in this case, three-dimensional objects.
Anne Umland: There's this very textured, green, impastoed grass. And on top of that you see two figures, one recumbent, swooned over, dead, lifeless. Over on the left is another figure of a female running with a very large knife in her hand. And then above that figure, you can see there's a small bird -- the nightingale referred to by the picture's title. And then up above that little miniature dollhouse-like structure there is the figure of a man up on tiptoe carrying a young girl in his arm whose own arm reaches out towards that knob that extends out into our space.
This work is often described as a harbinger of many of the concerns that would come to be seen as central to Surrealism: a preoccupation with illogical juxtapositions, with dream narratives, and with Freudian notions of sexuality.