Celestis or elephants of Celessebes, Max Ernst – overview of the painting

Celestis or elephants of Celessebes, Max Ernst – overview of the painting
Celestis or elephants of Celessebes, Max Ernst - overview of the painting - 1

  • Posted by Max Ernst
  • Museum: Tate Gallery
  • Year: 1921

Overview of the painting :

Celestis or the elephants of Celebessa – Max Ernst. 1921. Oil on canvas

   The surrealistic product of the violent imagination of Dadaist Ernst is a reflection of his perception of the world after the First World War. The picture shows clear traces of the military past – a monstrous figure on the canvas only remotely resembles an elephant. Its individual elements are associated with a gas mask, a steam boiler, an iron helmet, a military destruction machine – a tank, and the fangs of a fantastic pseudo-layer are very similar to two sharp blades. The threatening feeling of the dark gray gloomy color of the figure and its huge dimensions, almost completely filling the canvas, are emphasized.

   The contrast to the dark figure of the elephant is an elegant white female figure, expected to be headless and unexpectedly with a strange “dry” orange-yellow schematically depicted hand, frozen in a broken unnatural gesture. However, there is enough unnatural in the picture – a stylized tree is located behind a female image, as if consisting of separate bitch stumps of local black color. One of the knots has the same color as the female hand, almost exactly repeating its shape without a brush.

   Even the name of the picture has a double, even triple hidden meaning. Celesus is an Indonesian island (now called Sulawesi), the outlines of its shores are a elephant similar to a drawing. At the same time, Ernst himself said that the plot of the picture was inspired by a children’s reading room, which mentions “a elephant from Celestial, similar to demon.”. Well, there is enough powerlessness in the picture. Another reference associated with the island is an image resembling the head of a buffalo with metal horns. A dwarf buffalo really lives on Sulawesi. Did Ernst know this or did he mean something else symbolic under this image?