Artwork Detail

L’oeil du silence (The Eye of Silence)
German, 1891–1976
Oil on canvas
43 1/4 x 56 1/4 "
University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946
WU 3786
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
An important figure in the European avant–garde after World War I, German-born Surrealist painter Max Ernst executed L'oeil du silence while living in exile in the United States during World War II. The painting is a view of what appears to be a calm, reflective lake surrounded by green and brown shapes that simultaneously suggest foliage, stone ruins, and natural rock formations. In the right foreground sits a sphinx-like human figure; the background sky is filled with dark, ominous clouds. Marked by a frozen, poetic, even eerie sensibility, Ernst's painting is meant to be not direct or literal but provocative and suggestive, inciting investigation of symbols, imagery, and emotions stored in the human psyche that the imagery evokes. Influenced by Freud's notion of dreams as symbolic pathways into the mind, Ernst and his fellow Surrealists explored the unconscious and the irrational, believing repression of the human imagination and subconscious desires to be connected to the chaos of modern life. Serving as a still image from a dream fragment, the painting's haunting and unsettling imagery also suggests Ernst's own experiences of dislocation and alienation during the war.