et les papillons se mettent à chanter, Max Ernst
Max Ernst
et les papillons se mettent à chanter
Back to top

Max Ernst

et les papillons se mettent à chanter, 1929

163 x 148 mm
Physical Description
Inventory Number
Object Number
16835 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

'La femme 100 têtes', the first collage novel by Max Ernst, was published in Paris in 1929. As ambiguous as the title of the work sounds when read out loud - it can be taken to mean 'The Woman with 100 Heads' or 'The Headless Woman' - are its contents, consisting of nine chapters with a total of 147 printed pictures, which are considered part of the 'incunabula' of Surrealism. Among the original references was also 'et les papillons se mettent à chanter', a collage of outstandingly autonomous expressiveness.

Attracted from out of the darkness, countless moths and small insects swirl around a burning gaslight. This symbiosis of the artificial light source with its hissing sound and the "singing butterflies" is a fateful one. However, the bright glow enables us to see more than this melancholy-looking buzz of activity in the foreground. It also reaches much of the scenographically incorporated architectural complex: ghoulish catacombs, from which upright skeletons seem to be leaning forward in a curious and absurd manner.

For this surreal memento mori, Ernst carefully and skilfully combined two picture details from very different sources - namely the wood-engraving illustrations produced in large quantities during the nineteenth century, which provided him with a wealth of material for his increasingly complex collage novels. This pictorial material, which was largely supplanted in the twentieth century by photographic reproduction, interested the artist on account of its graphic structures, but especially because of the wide-ranging nature of its subjects. He combined countless pictorial fragments of this stimulating diversity with technical brilliance and creative contemplation, forming exceptionally paradox units of surreal poetry. Unlike the artistic process of "papier collé" adopted by the Cubists, who since about 1912 had been combining coloured surfaces with glued materials, Ernst had always focused on more than formal and compositional aspects. His design principle with regard to collage aimed at the synthesis of essentially disparate realities. It was heralded in his Dadaist montages, reflected in his frottages, which he "discovered" in 1925, and was also employed in his paintings. His method had a considerable impact on the further development of twentieth-century visual arts and can be detected in the 'Big Head' by Sigmar Polke.

About the Acquisition

The Frankfurt businessman Dr. Kurt Möllgaard and his wife, Marga, began collecting modern art after 1945. From 1964 on they donated parts of their collection to the Städelscher Museums-Verein. Kurt Möllgaard commented on his actions: "We are consciously continuing a tradition which has been cultivated to a remarkable extent by those citizens of Frankfurt who were forced to leave their homes after 1933." In 1987, after the death of his wife and his son, Möllgaard founded the Kurt and Marga Möllgaard Foundation. Since then it has enabled the purchase of further artworks, primarily for the Collection of Prints and Drawings.

Work Data

Basic Information

et les papillons se mettent à chanter (Original Title)
Title Translation
and the Butterflies begin to sing
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Geographic Reference
Production Reason
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Signiert unten rechts (mit Bleistift): max ernst; bezeichnet unten links: et les papillons se mettent à chanter; verso bezeichnet (mit Bleistift): Le fantôme de la repopulation
Captions Added Later
Verso Stempel des Städelschen Kunstinstituts, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2356)
  • Nicht geprüft
Work Catalogues
  • Spies/Metken 1976.1537
  • Spies 1974.282

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Eigentum des Städelschen Museums-Vereins e.V.
Picture Copyright
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif
Associated Medium
  • La femme 100 têtes



Research and Discussion


Object History
Marie-Laure de Noailles (1902-1970), Paris
Marcel Altmeyer, Paris
verschiedener Privatbesitz Deutschland
erworben mit Mitteln der Marga und Kurt Möllgaard-Stiftung durch den Städelschen Museums-Verein e.V., Frankfurt am Main, 2006.


Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.

The provenance information is based on the sources researched at the time they were published digitally. However, this information can change at any time when new sources are discovered. Provenance research is therefore a continuous process and one that is updated at regular intervals.

Ideally, the provenance information documents an object’s origins from the time it was created until the date when it found its way into the collection. It contains the following details, provided they are known:

  • the type of acquisition and/or the way the object changed hands
  • the owner's name and place of residence
  • the date on which it changed hands

The successive ownership records are separated from each other by a semicolon.

Gaps in the record of a provenance are indicated by the placeholder “…”. Unsupported information is listed in square brackets.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact the museum at .

More to discover



Do you have any suggestions, questions or information about this work?

Last update