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Painting: the disturbing strangeness of Max Ernst's "The Toilet of the Bride"

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"Bride's Toilet" (1940), by Max Ernst. akg-images / Cameraphoto

She is king and queen, flesh and fancy; one and plural, virgin and whore. Fiance of whom, of what? The toilet of the bride, conserved at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, is one of the most enigmatic paintings of Max Ernst (1891-1976). Dating back to 1940, it embodies in all its splendor the "Future resolution of these two seemingly contradictory states, which are the dream and the reality, in a sort of absolute reality, of surreality, if one can say, " that Andrà © Breton preached for his surrealist revolution.

In her center, a beautiful, almost naked, was her flame-colored feather coat and the raptor mask that hides her face. To serve her, from one side a woman, naked too, whose hair flies away in a purple stone wing; on the other, a strange long-necked bird, with a spear pointing towards the pubis of the bride. At her feet, a monstrous greenish and grimaceous creature endowed with four breasts, a belly of parturient, a sex of man.

Should we see the four avatars of the same being, a waltz of metamorphoses that retraces the various stages of a woman's life? Many celebrities have divined under the mask a portrait of the young English painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), madly loved by Ernst. But the too simplistic explanation is not enough to lift the mystery of this image that is as sophisticated as it is primitive. An immaculate design adorned with the power attributes of Hawaiian kings; an Annunciation of the coming storms, which borrows from late XIX symbolisme by Gustave Moreau, inspired by the sensual silhouettes of the master of the German Renaissance Lucas Cranach, is imbued with the medieval tales that the Ernst-Carrington couple loved. All set in an architecture set in scene with the Giorgio De Chirico, metaphysical painter whose discovery overthrew the young German painter on his arrival in France, in 1919.


When he imagines this composition, at the beginning of another more terrible war, Max Ernst goes through the darkest period of his life. Since 1938, he had shared his life with Leonora, in an isolated farmhouse in Saint-Martin-d'Arche (Ardeche). A time of appeasement, "moment of calm," to use the title of a painting dated 1939, which represents a forest peri fied under a burning sun. But the war breaks out in September. Considered "enemy of France", Ernst was arrested and imprisoned, first in Largentière (Ardèche), then twice at the Milles camp, near Paris. ™ Aix-en-Provence. Will he be sent back to his homeland of origin, where the IIIe Reich categorized it in 1937 as one of the worst "degenerate artists"? The toilet of the bride is a parable of this time of torment, alchemical image that fuses great story and intimate story.


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