Sat, Feb 24, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: Max Ernst’s “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale”

Max Ernst. Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (Deux enfants sont menaces par un rossignol), 1924, oil on wood with painted wood elements and frame. 69.8 x 57.1 x 11.4 cm. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.
馬克思‧恩斯特。《兩個孩子被夜鶯威脅》。一九二四年。木板油畫、上漆木料、木框,六十八‧八x 五十七‧一 x 十一‧四公分。美國紐約現代藝術博物館藏。

Photo courtesy of Museum of Modern Art

Max Ernst’s (1891-1976) Deux enfants sont menaces par un rossignol (Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale) was created in 1924, the year the Surrealism movement was officially started. Surrealism straddled art and literature, seeking to — through Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory — achieve the surreal, to transcend reality and arrive at a truth more authentic than reality itself, holding that dreams and the unconscious mind were the way to reach this surreal plane.

Ernst, himself a major figure in the Surrealist movement, painted the deep blue of the night sky at the top of the painting, transitioning in bands of tone to the first glimmer of dawn on the horizon. Against this background, and in the light of this dawn, a girl brandishes a blade, chasing away a nightingale in the air above her, while another girl lies collapsed on the ground.

In the bottom right of the composition is a house made of wood, with a male figure — cradling a child in his right arm — seemingly fleeing something. The two-dimensional figure, perched precariously atop the ridge of the three-dimensional roof against the painted background, looks as if he might fall at any second. He stretches his left arm forward, desperately reaching out to touch a round wooden object, resembling both a door bell and a door knob, nailed to the picture frame.

The wooden knob protrudes from the surface of the frame; the house is made from wood nailed to the picture. To the bottom left of the composition lies a gate, opened such that it extends beyond the frame. This solid object propels the flat surface of the painting out into three-dimensional space, giving the optical illusion of the two-dimensional painting a tactile substantiality. The stepped wooden frame is 10 cms deep, as if representing layers of reality.

The ridge of the roof, coupled with the tip of the man’s foot and extended arm, create a kind of tension, as the man, caught somewhere in the interstice of reality and a dream state, desperately tries to touch the bell/doorknob at the frame’s edge, to reach the other realm and break the spell.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)







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