Painting of the Week / Thomas Abbs

Painting of the Week: 54

Painting of the Week 54

Max Ernst (1891-1976), Thirty-three Little Girls Set Out for the White Butterfly Hunt, 1958, oil on canvas, 137 x 107 cm, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

Being the start of a new year, I figured this week’s painting should somehow tie-in with new beginnings. And leafing through this book at my desk I stumbled across Ernst’s Thirty-three Little Girls Set Out for the White Butterfly Hunt and thought it did the job pretty well. Striking a blow to pessimism, this explosion of light, clarity and summer delivers us into a world of durable and supreme joy; happy and harmonious activity. I think as sentiments go, and to quote Annie Hall, they are pretty neat.

In case you were wondering, Ernst was able to achieve the effect of shards of light in the painting by reviving his grattage technique, which creates a mosaic-like faceting of the painting by scraping the wet paint in restricted and abrupt movements with a short implement. The painting was also accompanied by a short prose poem, ‘Présence d’Alice’, published in the catalogue of his solo show at the galerie Creuzevault in Paris on 17 January 1958:

‘At the junction of two signs, one for a school of herrings and the other for a school of crystals, thirty-three little girls set out for a white butterfly hunt, the blind dance in the night, princes sleep badly and the black crow is to speak.’

I know, I know. I’m pleased he stuck with the turps and brushes, too. TA

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