The Elephant Celebes

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst was produced in 1921 and is considered to be one of the famous artworks of Surrealism movement. The work can be viewed now at TATE Modern


Medium: Oil Painting 

Subject(s): celebes, elephant


The Elephant Celebes is an oil painting produced in 1921 by German painter Max Ernst.

Ernst also revealed to Sir Roland that the title ‘Celebes’ was taken from some scurrilous couplets popular among German schoolboys.

The Elephant Celebes appeared to be a boiler like monster. The figure had a horned head with sightless eyes. On the left of this figure was a pair of tusk projecting which suggests the possibility of a second head? The neck of the figure was a long coil which was emerging from the upper section hole. The top of the painting consists of a brightly colored mysterious eye which seems to be standing in a large space. The two fishes on the top were swimming in the sky above. On the lower right of the painting was a headless figure seems to be of a woman with her raised arms. The dimensions of the painting The Elephant Celebes were 125.4 cm × 107.9 cm or 49.37 in × 42.48 in.

The Elephant Celebes was regarded as the first masterpiece of Surrealist artwork during Giorgio de Chirico tradition. This painting of Max Ernst was the most famous work of him with the combination of with the collage aspects of Dada in his surrealist early career. Paul Eluard was a poet and Max Ernest’s friend who bought this painting when it was completed in 1921.

Sir Roland Penrose bought it later from him and kept with him until 1975 when he had to sell the painting for the benefit of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The most detailed study of The Elephant Celebes was given through the Sir Roland’s Charlton Lecture.

The work can be viewed at Tate Gallery, London


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