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Max Ernst, Tremblement de terre printanier, sold for $1,147,500. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- At Bonhams Impressionist & Modern Sale tonight (November 16), an exceptional painting by Max Ernst consigned by a descendent of his widow, the artist Dorothea Tanning, saw an astonishing result, selling for $1,147,500. Tremblement de terre printanier had never appeared at auction before, and the excitement in the room was palpable.  

William O’Reilly, Bonhams Director of Impressionist & Modern Art, said “Ernst is among the titans of modernism – he is one of the most innovative, versatile artists of the 20th century. What makes this Ernst painting particularly special is its fascinating provenance: it comes directly from the family of his fourth wife, Dorothea Tanning, to whom he was married for thirty years.” 

Tremblement de terre printanier (estimate $600,000-1,000,000) is a monumental work from 1964, painted at Seillans in the South of France, where the German-French artist lived with Tanning following his return from wartime exile in the United States. The use of methods similar to ‘automatic’ painting and techniques such as grattage emphasize the physicality of Ernst’s practice. 

The trauma of his service in the trenches of World War I caused Ernst to re-evaluate his world view. The result – a rejection of order, the system and settled norms – became Dada. “Ernst became simultaneously a guiding spirit and an amused observer of both Dadaism and its stepchild, Surrealism,” said O’Reilly. 

During his wartime exile in New York in 1942, his path crossed with Dorothea Tanning. Originally from Galesburg, Ill., Tanning arrived in New York in 1935 with a passionate desire to become a painter. Largely self-taught, she developed a strong Surrealist style. In 1942, Peggy Guggenheim asked Ernst to scout out talent for an exhibition of women Surrealist painters. According to Tanning, Ernst came to the studio one afternoon to look at her work, stayed to play chess and moved in within a week. Their relationship of mutual support and inspiration blossomed in New York. The couple lived together until Ernst's death in 1976. 

The next Impressionist & Modern Sale is at Bonhams London on 2 February 2017 at 5pm.