Modern and Contemporary Art
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Full-size image not available for download. Please contact Rights and Reproductions.
Artist: Max Ernst, German, 1891–1976

Papillons (Butterflies)


Oil on canvas

65.1 × 81 cm (25 5/8 × 31 7/8 in.)
framed: 75.6 × 91.6 × 3.2 cm (29 3/4 × 36 1/16 × 1 1/4 in.)
Gift of Collection Société Anonyme
Influenced by Surrealism’s emphasis on unconscious or automatic procedures for art-making, Max Ernst developed frottage, a drawing technique in which canvas or paper is laid over a textured material and rubbed with a pencil to create a spontaneous, irregular surface. Ernst’s Papillons and La forêt (2002.15.21) both employ grattage, a variation on this rubbing technique that employs oil paint. In Papillons, after placing the canvas over a rough surface and covering it with multiple layers of paint, Ernst scraped away the outermost layers to reveal an arrangement of butterfly forms. La forêt is part of a series of forest images from the late 1920s, most of which include a solar disc and a bird trapped among branches. The dark forest was a popular image in nineteenth-century German Romantic art, and it was adopted by the Surrealists as a metaphor for the imagination.
Not on view
20th century

Julien Levy Galleries, New York, to 1937; Katherine Dreier, 1937–41; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Robert L. Herbert, Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenney, The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 269, no. 260, ill.

Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950), 114.

Henrietta Means, “Surrealism and near Abstract: Blobs of Color, Unrecognizable Objects Are Shown at Art Gallery,” Charleston Evening Post (September 5, 1946).

Max Ernst, Ecritures (Paris: Gallimard, 1970).

Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Milan: Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 1996).

Uwe M. Schneede, Max Ernst (New York: Praeger, 1973), Comp. cit.

Edward Quinn, Max Ernst (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1977), Comp. cit.

Pontus Hulten, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Paris: Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1975), Comp. cit.

William S. Lieberman, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1961), Comp. cit.

Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Saint-Paul, France: Fondation Maeght, 1983), 69, Comp. cit.

Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Berlin: Berlin Nationalgalerie, 1979), Comp. cit.

Wulf Herzogenrath, Max Ernst in Köln: Die Rheinische Kunstszene bis 1922, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Kunstverein, 1980), Comp. cit.

Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Das Innere Gesicht, exh. cat. (Hanover, Germany: Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1970), Comp. cit.

Max Ernst, das Rendezvous der Freunde, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Museum Ludwig, 1991), Comp. cit.

Ernst Max, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and his Friends (New York: Schultz, 1948), Comp. cit.

William A. Camfield, Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism (New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1993), Comp. cit.

Norbert Nobis, Max Ernst: das Graphische Oeuvre, exh. cat. (Hanover, Germany: Sprengel Museum, 1990), Comp. cit.

Max Ernst: Gemaldge, Plastiken, Collagen, Frottagen, Bucher, exh. cat. (Stuttgart, Germany: Württembergischer Kunstverein, 1970), Comp. cit.

Werner Spies, Max Ernst: Oeuvre-Katalog, 6 vols. (Cologne, Germany: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1975–1976).

Helmut R. Leppien and Carola Giedion-Welcker, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 1962), Comp. cit.

Diane Waldman, Max Ernst: a Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1975), Comp. cit.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.