et les papillons se mettent à chanter, Max Ernst
Max Ernst
et les papillons se mettent à chanter
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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.

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