The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is closed until further notice
André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 proclaimed “pure psychic automatism” as an artistic ideal, emphasizing inspiration derived from the chance juxtaposition of forms and the haphazard use of materials. Max Ernst came under the influence of Breton’s ideas in 1924, and soon thereafter developed his frottage or rubbing technique.1 In making his first frottages, he dropped pieces of paper at random on floor boards and rubbed them with pencil or chalk, thus transferring the design of the wood grain to the paper. He next adapted this technique to oil painting, scraping paint from prepared canvases laid over materials such as wire mesh, chair caning, leaves, buttons, or twine. Using his grattage (scraping) technique, Ernst covered his canvases completely with pattern and then interpreted the images that emerged, thus allowing texture to suggest composition in a spontaneous fashion. In The Forest the artist probably placed the canvas over a rough surface (perhaps wood), scraped oil paint over the canvas, and then rubbed, scraped, and overpainted the area of the trees. The subject of a dense forest appears often in Ernst’s work of the late twenties and early thirties. These canvases generally contain a wall of trees, a solar disk, and an apparition of a bird hovering amid the foliage.