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Max Ernst, American (born Germany), 1891 - 1976

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

25 1/2 x 21 1/4 inches (64.8 x 54 cm) Framed: 28 1/8 × 23 3/4 × 1 7/8 inches (71.4 × 60.3 × 4.8 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Max Ernst created the contours and textures of the scalloped shell and wood slats in this picture by placing his canvas over different objects and then scraping paint on or off with a palette knife. This innovative process, called grattage, was meant to suspend preconceived ideas in the creation of the motif. Only after shapes began to appear would they be more actively transformed. Ernst, a member of Dada circles in Germany before moving to Paris in 1922, related such practice to “the intellect’s age-old energetic need to liberate itself from the deceptive and boring paradise of fixed memories and to investigate new, incomparably expansive areas of experience, in which the boundaries between the so-called inner world and the outer world become increasingly blurred.”


With Julien Levy Gallery, New York, by 1932? [1]. Louise Arensberg (1879-1953) and Walter C. Arensberg (1878-1954), Los Angeles, by 1936 [2]. 1. The painting was exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in its Ernst solo exhibition of 1932: see the photograph reproduced in Schaffner and Jacobs, Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery, 1998, fig. 36, p. 97, which shows the painting being hung by Julien and Joella Levy. (According to Marie Difilippantonio, Levy Gallery archivist, there was no catalog for the exhibition, and the exhibition announcement does not list titles.) However, the Arensbergs apparently did not buy the painting directly from Levy; he states in a letter dated August 20, 1951, that their only purchase from him was Duchamp's "La Mariée" in 1937 (PMA, Arensberg Archive, Box 30). The purchase may have been made through Howard Putzel in Los Angeles, as the Levy Gallery sales ledger records the purchase of a painting entitled "Coquille Magique" by [Howard] Putzel in October 1935, among other works by Ernst acquired by Putzel. 2. The acquisition date is indicated by a typed sticker on the stretcher which reads: "Sea Shell by Max Ernst, owned by Walter C. Arensberg / 7065 Hillside, Hollywood, Cal. / 1/22/36 via box A-53 (from Bachman)".