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Max Ernst
Séraphin le Néophyte
203 x 75 x 75 cm (78 x 29.5 x 29.5 in).
The estate of the artist, certificate by Dorothea Tanning issued on October 1st, 2010

“Conceived in 1967, at a crucial moment in Max Ernst’s career, in which the artist fully committed himself to sculpture, Séraphin le Néophyte is one of three monumental bronzes belonging to the group Corps enseignant pour une École de Tueurs (Teaching Staff for a School of Murderers). The iconographic title of the impish, gargoyle-like sculpture implies a heavenly creature of the highest ranks, directly attending to God and thus can be understood – in the spirit of DADA – as a shining example of Max Ernst’s outstanding use of language and the witty humour pervading his oeuvre.

In 1967 Max Ernst created a group of stone figures in the atelier of Gilles Chauvellin in Huismes called Corps enseignant pour une École de Tueurs, (Teaching Staff for a School of Murderers), which was presented in Alexandre Iolas‘ gallery in Paris in 1968. The accompanying catalogue to this exhibition described the third figure Séraphin le Néophyte as following:

Séraphin the Newcomer also called The Confidant of the King The Big Clueless The Perfect Gorilla The Loudspeaker etc.

After the exhibition the sculptures found their place near Max Ernst‘s last house in Seillans in the South of France. Since the artist always planned to make a version in bronze, the group served as a model for a bronze ensemble, which was cast in the famous French foundry Susse with the help of Dorothea Tanning, the artist’s widow.

The sculpture Séraphin le Néophyte is one of the group’s three monumental bronze figures conceived at a crucial moment in Ernst’s career in which he fully committed himself to sculpture. Séraphin le Néophyte and Séraphine-Cherubin, whose poignant names reference biblical iconography, seem to be guarding their central Big Brother, who not only automatically evokes associations with George Orwell’s dystopian scenario 1984, but ironically appears comparatively small to his heavy-built guardians. Although both of Big Brother’s chaperones appear almost identically in their simple abstracted forms, caught in crouching poses with similar protruding tongues, slender faces and tapered hoods, Séraphin le Néophyte is strikingly distinguished by its blind-folded eyes. The iconographic title of both flanking figures can be understood as an ironic pun, a taunting humor predominantly featured in Max Ernst’s oeuvre. Both Séraphin’s and Cherubin’s iconographic meaning implies heavenly creatures of the highest ranks, directly attending to God. While the Book of Isaiah describes Seraphim as six-winged creatures flying around the Throne of God crying “holy, holy, holy”, Cherubim in their original duty represent nobody less than the guardians of the paradisiac Garden of Eden. Nominally heavenly beings with pure hearts and sincere intentions, it quickly becomes evident that the angelic guardians do not live up to their magniloquent names. With their impish, mischievous nature and their impudent expression the trio resembles a group of gigantic gargoyles…