Max ERNST, Roi, reine et fou [King, queen and bishop] Enlarge 2 /3
  1. 187838.jpg 1/3
  2. 187838_a.jpg 2/3
  3. 187838_b.jpg 3/3


Germany 1891 – France 1976

  • also worked in the United States of America

Roi, reine et fou [King, queen and bishop] 1929-30 Materials & Technique: sculptures, bronze
Impression: 26/35
Edition: no.26 from an edition of 35 (plus 8 artist's proofs)

Dimensions: 16.0 h x 30.0 w x 9.5 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.1
Subject: Art style: Surrealism
Image rights: © Max Ernst. Licensed by Viscopy

More detail

Max Ernst is a major figure in Dada and Surrealism, the revolutionary artistic and literary movements of the early 20th century. He is known as a sculptor, a painter, a graphic artist and the inventor of frottage. Like his contemporary Marcel Duchamp, Ernst was fascinated by chess; images of chess recur in his work and he developed a stylised iconography of the game.

In King, queen and bishop 1929–30, three major chesspieces are captured: the bishop, in the middle, separates the king and queen. The figures were originally made in clay and show evidence of the squeezing and shaping of the artist’s hand. Ernst worked with plaster maquettes in the 1920s and 1930s. He had no money to cast in bronze at that time and he later made editions of some of the plasters. In 1974–75, two editions in bronze were produced by Valsuani Fondeur, Paris. This example is from the darkly patinated edition; the other edition, made at the same time, has a light patination.

The figures of King, queen and bishop, although fixed in their base, hint at action, either just completed or about to happen. The king is the most static of the three, as might be expected considering his role on the chessboard where any movement is limited to a single square. Comically, the bishop has drawn his cape dramatically around him, ready to spin into action. The queen appears poised for stately progress, with coiffure piled high and chin tilted imperiously. Her arms, with hands demurely clasped across her belly, create an ovoid form that counterbalances her rounded buttocks and elongated head.

The balance and counterbalance of King, queen and bishop echo the composition of the monumental Habakuk 1934 (cast in 1970), acquired by the Gallery in 2006. It too is an assemblage, constructed from casts of flowerpots. The small bronze augments the showcase in the Dada and Surrealist room of the International galleries, and is displayed among other disconcerting objects, including works from Africa, the Pacific and North America that were once owned by the artist. Ernst’s significance as a Surrealist artist, his subsequent influence on Abstract Expressionism and other 20th–century art, and his role as a collector mean that King, queen and bishop is a welcome addition to the collection.

Christine Dixon and Krysia Kitch, International Painting and Sculpture
in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009

in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009