Papillons (Butterflies) Artist: Max Ernst (German, 1891–1976)


Modern and Contemporary Art

Not on view

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.


Oil on canvas


25 5/8 × 31 7/8 in. (65.1 × 81 cm)
framed: 29 3/4 × 36 1/16 × 1 1/4 in. (75.6 × 91.6 × 3.2 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Collection Société Anonyme

Accession Number



20th century


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 records is ongoing.



Julien Levy Galleries, New York, to 1937; Katherine Dreier, 1937–41; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.
  • Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Milan: Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, 1996),
  • William A. Camfield, Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism (New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1993), Comp. cit.
  • Max Ernst, das Rendezvous der Freunde, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Museum Ludwig, 1991), Comp. cit.
  • Norbert Nobis, Max Ernst: das Graphische Oeuvre, exh. cat. (Hanover, Germany: Sprengel Museum, 1990), Comp. cit.
  • 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
  • Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Saint-Paul, France: Fondation Maeght, 1983), 69, Comp. cit.
  • Wulf Herzogenrath, Max Ernst in Köln: Die Rheinische Kunstszene bis 1922, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Kunstverein, 1980), Comp. cit.
  • Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Berlin: Berlin Nationalgalerie, 1979), Comp. cit.
  • Edward Quinn, Max Ernst (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1977), Comp. cit.
  • Werner Spies, Max Ernst: Oeuvre-Katalog, 6 vols. (Cologne, Germany: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1975–1976),
  • Pontus Hulten, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Paris: Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1975), Comp. cit.
  • Diane Waldman, Max Ernst: a Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1975), Comp. cit.
  • Uwe M. Schneede, Max Ernst (New York: Praeger, 1973), Comp. cit.
  • Max Ernst, Ecritures (Paris: Gallimard, 1970),
  • Werner Spies, Max Ernst, Das Innere Gesicht, exh. cat. (Hanover, Germany: Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1970), Comp. cit.
  • Max Ernst: Gemaldge, Plastiken, Collagen, Frottagen, Bucher, exh. cat. (Stuttgart, Germany: Württembergischer Kunstverein, 1970), Comp. cit.
  • Helmut R. Leppien and Carola Giedion-Welcker, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (Cologne, Germany: Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 1962), Comp. cit.
  • William S. Lieberman, Max Ernst, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1961), Comp. cit.
  • Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950), 114
  • Ernst Max, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and his Friends (New York: Schultz, 1948), Comp. cit.
  • Henrietta Means, "Surrealism and near Abstract: Blobs of Color, Unrecognizable Objects Are Shown at Art Gallery," Charleston Evening Post (September 5, 1946),
Object copyright
Additional information




Signed l.r. "Max Ernst 1932"

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