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The Blue Forest

A work made of oil on canvas.
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Max Ernst
French, born Germany, 1891–1976

About this artwork

Max Ernst was one of the most gifted artists associated with Surrealism, exhibiting a protean imagination that led him to produce work in an unusually wide range of styles and techniques. This painting belongs to a period, from 1925 to 1928, that was perhaps the most productive and creative of his long career. Most of the artist’s extraordinarily rich work of these years depended, directly or indirectly, on a technique referred to as frottage (rubbing), which Ernst used to stimulate his imagination, encouraged in this by Surrealist theories about the processes of inspiration. This technique consisted in placing a piece of paper over a textured object or surface and then rubbing it with a pencil or other tool to obtain an image. Using this method as his point of departure, Ernst produced in 1925 a series of exceptionally beautiful drawings, thirty-four of which were published the following year under the title Histoire naturelle (Natural History). This painting shares with these drawings a stark and delicate beauty. Like many other works of this period, it was produced by adapting frottage to oil painting. The techniques used included scraping paint off the canvas, a procedure Ernst called grattage (scraping), or rubbing a cloth dipped in paint over the canvas, as it lay on a variety of textured surfaces from wood planks and wire mesh, as in this case, to string, chair caning, shells, and many other materials. As the title of Ernst’s portfolio of drawings indicates, many of his works of these years allude to the natural world. The “Forest” series, exemplified by this painting, resumed a popular Romantic theme that continued to fascinate Surrealist artists(compare, for example, the work of Ernst’s close friend Jean Arp) as a repository of mysterious, primeval forces.

Here the chance patterns produced by the wood grain of several wood planks have been transformed into a cluster of towering forms, outlined against a pale sky flecked with blue, yellow, and green. The forest’s floor presents a honeycomb pattern seemingly produced by means of a wire mesh, a pattern that is echoed in the sky in scattered bursts of color. The spare simplicity of this image enhances its associative powers, as we are drawn into our own cosmic reverie about a primordial world, encompassing far more than the forest mentioned in the title. Ernst’s works thus become, in his own words, a kind of “hypnotic language [that] takes us back to a lost paradise, to cosmic secrets, and teaches us to understand the language of the universe.”

—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 158-159.


On View, Gallery 396


Modern Art


Max Ernst


The Blue Forest


United States (Artist's nationality)




Oil on canvas


signed and dated lower left: max ernst 25


116 × 73 cm (45 3/4 × 28 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Joseph Winterbotham Collection

Reference Number



© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Extended information about this artwork

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