Approaching Puberty… (The Pleiades), 1921
For this work, Max Ernst has cut out the figure of a reclining female nude from an existing picture, rotated it though 90 degrees and pasted it onto the painted ground. Although the woman’s face is missing, we can imagine her gazing pensively at the stone below her. Her right arm is raised to her head, while her left arm passes like a sword through a dark disc. The artist has integrated the French caption as a component of equal importance. Like the picture, it offers unlimited scope for associations. In a language rich with allusions, Ernst seems to be equating the woman with the Pleiades, a constellation named after a group of virgin nymphs in a Greek myth. They were transformed into stars by Zeus to save them from the hunter Orion. Virginity and lasciviousness, the celestial and the earthly, floating and falling, grace and destruction—in this intriguing work Max Ernst holds a wealth of opposites in balance.