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Le couple

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In 1922, the German Dadaist Max Ernst moved to Paris, where he came into contact with the Surrealists. He gradually applied the collage method, which he initially used with paper, to his painted compositions. The man and woman are difficult to distinguish in this wonderfully poetic couple.

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Collection book

Collection book Order


Title Le couple
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 106,5 cm
Width 142 cm
Artists Painter: Max Ernst
Accession number 2708 (MK)
Credits Purchased 1966
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1966
Creation date in 1923
Provenance Jean (Hans) Arp Collection; P.G. Van Hecke, Brussels; Claude Spaak, Brussels; E.L.T. Mesens, London; J.B. Urvater, Sint-Genesius-Rode; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation 1965
Exhibitions Knokke Le Zoute 1953; Leicester/York/London 1958; New York 1975 Paris 1975; London/Stuttgart/Düsseldorf 1991; New York/Houston/Chicago 1993; Rotterdam 1996a; Rotterdam 2000a; London/Rotterdam/Bilbao 2007-08; Stockholm 2008-09; Rotterdam 2013-2014a; Rotterdam 2017b
Internal exhibitions The Collection Enriched (2011)
Een paraplu, een naaimachine en een ontleedtafel. Surrealisme à la Dalí in Rotterdam. (2013)
De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
Lievelingen (2024)
External exhibitions Only the Marvelous is Beautiful (2022)
A Surreal Shock. Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
Histoire de ne pas rire. Le surréalisme en Belgique (2024)
Surrealist Art - Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Power Mask. The Power of Masks (2017)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Dalí, Magritte, Man Ray and Surrealism. Highlights from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
A Surreal Shock – Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Research Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Literature Gautier 1971, pp. 90-91; New York 1975, pp. 31-32, cat. no. 67; Spies/Metken 1976, pp. 320-21, cat. no. 620; Blavier 1985, p. 151, fig. 127; Spies 1991, pp. 118-19; New York/Houston/Chicago 1993, p. 137, cat. no. 154; London/Rotterdam/Bilbao 2007-08, pp. 326-27, cat. no. 37; Rotterdam 2007, pp. 46-47; Alechinsky/Jacqmain/Roberts-Jones 2013, pp. 47, 115
Geographical origin Germany > Western Europe > Europe

Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

Max Ernst, 'Vive l’amour ou Pays charmant' (Long Live Love or Charming Country), 1923, oil on canvas, 131.4 x 98.1 cm. Saint Louis Art Museum

Max Ernst, Jean (Hans) Arp and Johannes Baargeld formed the Cologne Dada group in 1919. Like the Dadaists elsewhere they wanted to turn the world upside down, just as the First World War had radically changed their world. They published a variety of magazines and staged some exhibitions.[1] In that period Ernst admired reproductions of the metaphysical paintings by Giorgio de Chirico in the magazine Valori Plastici.[2] In 1919, inspired by this Italian artist, he made his first collages from cut-outs from everyday images, which he combined to make highly imaginative compositions.[3]

In 1921, at the invitation of Ernst and Baargeld, the French Dadaists, including Tristan Tzara, Arp, Paul Éluard, his wife Gala and André Breton visited the Tyrol and Cologne.[4] They admired Ernst’s collages because they saw similarities to their own poetic experiments that they showcased in the Dada magazine Littérature (first series 1919-21) edited by Breton, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon.[5] After Ernst got to know Éluard in 1921, an intensive working relationship between the two men and a very amicable association with Gala developed.[6] In 1922 Ernst left his wife Louise Strauss and their young son behind in Germany and moved to Paris. In 1923 Ernst joined the Éluards, who were living in Eaubonne. During the summer months Ernst decorated their house with a number of spectacular wall paintings.[7] The artist depicted aspects of their ménage-à-trois in works like Le couple and Vive l’amour ou Pays charmant (both dated 1923), in which there are couples or ‘duplication’. Le couple shows two figures in an almost empty space. Only the arms of the figure on the right have a recognisable human shape. The other body parts are represented by collage-like constructions of lace, tassels and fringing. The figure on the left with legs crossed and round shapes probably represents a woman. The figure on the right may be a man.[8]

The second series of the magazine Littérature was published between 1922 and 1924; this marked the transition from Dadaism to Surrealism. In the autumn of 1922 Breton, Aragon, Desnos, Éluard, Ernst and Benjamin Péret began to experiment with hypnosis. When they met on 27 September Desnos was hypnotized, with a pen and paper within reach.[9] Everyone present was able to ask a question that Desnos answered with a drawing or a short sentence. While he held Éluard’s hand Desnos was asked: ‘How do you see Éluard?’ ‘He is blue’. ‘Why blue?’ ‘Because the sky nests’.[10] This remark may have affected Ernst and Le couple could be a portrait of Éluard and Gala.

Aside from the work Histoire naturelle (1926), which consists of a folder containing 34 heliogravures, and a lithograph, Le couple is the only painting by Ernst in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection. It came from the Belgian collection of Bertie and Gigi Urvater.[11]



[1] Including the one-off magazine Die Schammade; see New York/Houston/Chicago 1993, p. 66.

[2] Ibid., p. 333.

[3] Ibid., p. 81.

[4] Ibid., p. 65: after the First World War it was almost impossible for a German to travel to Paris. This is why Ernst and his friend Baargeld invited ‘the entire Dada Family’ to visit them in Cologne.

[5] See Kisters in in this publication, pp. 12-13.

[6] Gala Éluard met Salvador Dalí during a holiday in Cadaqués in August 1929. After this encounter she left Éluard and became Dalí’s partner for life.

[7] London/Rotterdam/Bilbao 2007-08, pp. 45-48.

[8] New York/Houston/Chicago 1993, p. 137.

[9] Ibid., p. 126.

[10] Ibid., p. 136.

[11] For more about the Urvaters, see Van Kampen-Prein in this publication, pp. 22-23.

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Max Ernst

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After the First World War, Max Ernst was one of the founders of the Dada movement in Cologne. In 1924, Ernst was also closely involved in the foundation of...

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