Max Ernst, German, 1891 - 1976
In Praise of Freedom (Éloge de la liberté), ca. 1926
Oil on canvas
39 ½ × 31 ¾ in. (100.3 × 80.6 cm)
CA 5916

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
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In the mid-1920s, German artist Max Ernst developed a new technique known as grattage. In this medium, a variant of the frottage technique generally used for works on paper, the artist covered an unstretched canvas in layers of paint, placed it against a textured surface, and selectively scraped away the paint, revealing the patterning beneath. With In Praise of Freedom, he applied this process to the favored themes of forests and birds. Years later, Ernst recalled his mixed emotions at the dense woods that surrounded his childhood home in Brühl, Germany: “The wonderful sense of breathing free in the great outdoors, and yet the oppressive sense of being surrounded on all sides by hostile trees.” This work evokes that tense claustrophobia, as the rough, red-tinged trunks overlap and crowd one another. At the composition’s center, a white avian form applied over the grattage seems to glow, radiant despite the faint lines of a cage around it. Soon after making this work, Ernst invented the recurrent character of Loplop, an anthropomorphic, androgynous bird that functioned as his alter ego. Already here, the bird seems to adopt the artist’s own ambivalent posture within the forest, simultaneously outside and in, free yet doubly constrained by its faint cage and the dark, inscrutable wood.