Max Ernst – The elephant celebes painting (1921)

In this article below, we provide a deep review of The Elephant Celebes painting. It is an abridgment of Surrealism art in 1921 conducted by Max Ernst. It brought the highest points in a course on Visual Communication and Judgment of Art. Firstly, we will investigate the picture’s history. After that, we will go into the details of the picture. It is the most sophisticated part in order to learn about the painting’s Surrealism true meanings.

I. History of the masterpiece – The Elephant Celebes:

The Elephant Celebes

The Elephant Celebes is the name of this picture, first of all. This painting’s short basic name is also called “Celebes”, according to dedications on both sides: front and back of the canvas. Ernst had painted The Elephant Celebes in Cologne in 1921.

The French poet and Surrealist Paul Éluard went to see the artist Ernst in that year and wanted to purchase the painting and then took it back to Paris. Éluard would buy other of Ernst’s paintings, and Ernst painted on a wall for Éluard’s house located in Eaubonne. The Elephant Celebes still remained in Éluard’s collection until 1938. Then the English artist Roland Penrose bought it. The Elephant Celebes was in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London, since 1975. Now it is in the Tate Modern.

The real price from Penrose’s sale of The Elephant Celebes used to set up the grant-giving Elephant Trust. It keeps administering bursaries to artists and small arts organization in the UK. The back of the canvas has several doodles. They are seemingly unrelated to the subject mentioned on the front of the canvas. It consists of two figures handling golf clubs adjacent to the word “GOLF”.

II.  Brief introduction:

artist Max Ernst

The Elephant Celebes (or short name Celebes) is a 1921 painting of the German Dadaist plus surrealist Max Ernst. It is among the most well-known of Ernst’s early surreal works. It is also “unsuspicious the original masterpiece of Surrealist painting in the de Chirico tradition.”. It actually combines the lively dreamlike atmosphere of Surrealism with the artwork composed of images posted on a canvas of Dada.

1. Description and its influence:

Giorgio de Chirico was an inspiration for the very first Surrealists. Celebes’ palette (flat holding and combining colors) as well as spatial construction which shows his influence. The painting also put efforts to use the Dada’s collage effects to simulate various materials. Ernst’s realistic portrayal of the elements creates a hallucinatory influence. He interconnects it with collage, and was trying to gain in this painting.

2. Ernst’s famous speech:

Regarding the art of collage, Ernst claimed that it is the systematic exploitation of the accidental. On one hand, it is artificially exacerbated encounter of two or more non-associated realities on an apparently unsuitable plane. The spark of poetry made by the proximity of those realities.

‘The Elephant Celebes’ – one of the seminal paintings by the avant-garde artist Max Ernst, its actor measured it to pioneer the Surrealist Movement in the visual arena. It was painted in 1921 within the First World War. It approached the essence of Surrealist manifesto. In purity, it departs from the long organized dictum of aesthetics in the meaningful beauty, to an anarchist performance of beauty. It tried to give a flowing medium to the subconscious thinking, particularly dreams. It uses what is called the Automatization. It had perfect allegiance to Freud and his Psychoanalytic ways of explaining dreams. Hence, surrealists aimed to bring out the superior underlying present running below the falsified images to make sense, by scrupulous juxtaposition. What seems at original totally abstract, after caution deliberation wakes an equivalent pattern which soothes the mind.

The Elephant Celebes is at the top to disclose the effects of many art movements in the genesis of Surrealism. The minimalist representation using geometric lines and curves. They are a specialty of Cubism, entirely senseless everyday objects. A specialty of Dadaism were wonderfully employed to wake up a sense of connection from anarchy. Finally a specialty of Surrealism. The daily objects such as a lamp’s shade an unfulfilled bust of a woman, piggy bank, and hose pipes, occur optionally in a free – flowing pattern of the Automatization. Yet as Freud criticized that the surrealists put efforts to draw things in an abstract manner, correspond with the subconscious. Yet their ego is transparent frequently, in attempting to add a sense to the abstractions, consciously or subconsciously.

III. The Elephant Celebes – going into details:

If you carefully view at The Elephant Celebes, you will pay attention the highly contradictory nature of space it shows. On the one side, is, as if, an existential one. But on the other hand, it is full of elements that make it anti-existential, where is impossible to exist. Is this how Max Ernst observes our earthly life (saw it already back then, almost a hundred years ago)?

First and foremost, The Elephant Celebes painting describes the man, the woman, a giant robot (the “elephant”). Additionally, the office for its control – a very little mini-submarine-like machine on the back side of the mechanical “elephant”. The existential space has a point of view. The viewpoint of a landscape calling up a dessert combining with a chain of mountains on the horizon. Only when we follow step by step, we finally understand that this space is really placed at the bottom of the sea (the ocean floor). If the “elephant” and its “headquarter” on its back were intentionally hidden to disguise it (with the military).

The Elephant Celebes

We can also see that under-water creatures are swimming above. This underwater area where mannequin-woman and soldier-man stand, both have no heads. As if moved back to the period when our zoological ancestors lived in the ocean before they switched their living place to the land. Where life declined to basic mime war and severely crude sexuality, is the area which is totally artificial. It is a technocratic and technologically possessed civilization in its core. It is quite similar to a construction site for developing a giant military robot that stands. As if, on some types of floor-desk, with some little details proposing the work of geometric thinking. They impacts the space inside the painting also mental – construction/creation and in this sense imaginary and futuristic.

IV. Konkombwa:

The main concentration of The Elephant Celebes is a large mechanical elephant. It is round and notably, it has a trunk-like hose protruding from it. The figure’s round body occurred after a picture in an anthropological review of a clay corn bin from southern Sudanese culture Konkombwa. The Elephant Celebes suggests “liturgical and totemic carving of African”. It is proved by the figure’s bullhorns and the totem-like pole at right. The Elephant Celebes originally gathers imagery and non-Western visual factors.

The elephant has a ruffles metallic cuff or collar, as well as a horned head and tail. The lower horizon highlighted the creature’s scale, and the gesture of the headless manikin established the viewer the figure. The mannequin dresses a surgical glove and a Surrealist symbol. This nude figure may have a mythological mean. It recommends the seduction of Europa by Zeus while pretending to be a bull.

The main concentration of The Elephant Celebes is a large mechanical elephant.

The nearly empty sky consists of more inconsistencies: there are two fish “flying” on the left. The black shape from the right of the fish seems to be an approaching airplane. There is also a track of smoke in the right part of the sky.  

It can be ensured that The Elephant Celebes is full of actions. Some of the things are occurring at the same moment: the elephant with its curved trunk is smoking, which looks like a funnel. And the thing that the chimney comes from, look like a factory.

The shape of the headless manikin looks like it is “waving”.

V. Mechanical terror detail:

The sky seems almost alive thanks to the fishes at its left above and the dark brushstrokes. Almost the curved lines were full of utilization, creating a general dynamic feel. The central space has several geometrical curves. The bust on the right corner leads to the easement, naturalistic ones. This dynamism is nonetheless conquered because of black color and a grayish dull. The dark colors and the geometrical shapes make a very severe and worrying mood. By taking into considerations about the ancient context, this painting might create rumor to the “mechanical terror” of the war experience. It linked to Ernst writing:

‘On the 1st of August 1914, Max Ernst has gone. He was regenerated on the 11 November 1918 as a young man who desiderated to look for the myths of his time.’ The Elephant Celebes seems to represent the myth of devastation.

VI. A glance at The Elephant Celebes:

Max Ernst used to tell Roland Penrose that the painting’s title, which is The Elephant Celebes, extracted from the opening words of a German schoolboys’ rhyme with sexual meaning.

Der Elefant von Celebes
hat hinten etwas Gelebes.
Der Elefant von Sumatra,
der v
ögelt seine Grossmama.
Der Elefant von Indien,
der kann das Loch nicht findien

The elephant from Celebes
has sticky, yellow bottom grease.
The elephant from Sumatra
always fucks his grandmama.
The elephant from India
can never find the hole ha-ha.”

On the other hand, some kind of light colors has been in The Elephant Celebes, as well to carry dynamism and transform with the abstraction of the painting. The vertical line lying on the left breaks symmetric of the central body and causes dynamism. The background of the picture is likely a sky. However, The Elephant Celebes has no middle ground – familiar to the absence in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The factors of shadows and juxtaposition make a three – dimensional proxy. Although some of the shadows oppose angle relation against other shadows. It includes the right leg’s shadow of the elephant towards the shadows of hose pipe, vertical line on the left and the elephant’s left leg. The factor of fulfillment is lack of putting mutilated body parts here and there like the arm and the leg.