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The King Playing with the Queen

The impressive group of figures called "Capricorn" is not merely one of the masterpieces of the Surrealist Max Ernst. The work, on long-term loan from Deutsche Bank and to be exhibited beginning in April 2005 at the new Max Ernst Museum in Brühl, also tells a very special story that includes chapters on love and jealousy, revenge and flight, seclusion, and finally happiness.

The new Max Ernst Museum in Brühl, view from the south
Photo: Rainer Mader, 2004

On April 23 2005, the new Max Ernst Museum will finally open its doors near to Schloss Augustusburg in the former Benediktusheim in Brühl, the city where the co-founder of Surrealism, Max Ernst, was born. The Benediktusheim, which was designated an historical landmark in 1984, was originally built in 1844 as a day resort, expanded afterwards into a hotel, and turned into a nursing home in 1918. The Cologne architecture firm Van den Valentyn handled the remodeling of the horseshoe-shaped classicist building for its new life as a museum, in which the goal was to combine the castle-like old building with elements of modern glass architecture without detracting from the substance of the historical three-wing structure.

Max Ernst: Masques, undated, Deutsche Bank Collection

One of the museum’s focal points is the Schneppenheim Collection, amassed by Dr. Peter Schneppenheim, like Ernst also born in Brühl. It contains nearly all of the print works of the great Surrealist (1891-1976). The museum’s collection also includes around 500 photographs by famous photographers and fellow artists such as Man Ray , Lee Miller, and Berenice Abbott, which help provide insights into Max Ernst’s life.

The museum’s major attraction are the 60 sculptures acquired directly from the artist’s widow, the painter Dorothea Tanning, who lives in New York. The absolute highlight, however, is the group of figures Capricorn, which will be exhibited in Brühl on long-term loan from Deutsche Bank. The group of figures with its intriguing aura was created in the seclusion of Arizona in 1948. It was first acquired by Deutsche Bank in 1982 for its branch office on Königsallee in Düsseldorf and is widely considered to be one of the artist’s major works.

Max Ernst Museum, newly opened
Photo: Rainer Mader, 2004

During the time he created the group of sculptures, Max Ernst, who had been forced to flee from Paris to the USA in 1941 to escape persecution by the National Socialists, found himself in a serious life crisis. Two years before, in 1946, he had made the final break with Peggy Guggenheim, his powerful patroness and short-time wife, and had begun an affair with the artist Dorothea Tanning. Peggy was consumed by anger and jealousy. When she received an offer from the Daily Press to write a series of articles about her artist friends, she saw an opportunity to get her revenge.

Max Ernsts Capricorne (1948-64) in the courtyard of the Deutsche Bank in Düsseldorf

In his 1984 memoir "A Not-So-Still Life," Max’ only son from his first marriage, Jimmy Ernst, remarked: "I was appalled by its devastating pettiness and I could not believe that she could let such vindictiveness stand. Barely avoiding vulgarity, it seemed almost an act of self-flagellation in its frequent failure of rational thinking. It was tailor-made for the scandal press and it would hurt her almost as much as the intended subject of destruction, my father."

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