Max Ernst and jewellery maker François Hugo established a long-standing friendship when they met at an exhibition organised by Andre Breton, in Paris, in 1922. Ernst was also a close friend of Hugo’s wife, Princess Ruspoli, and would often stay at her family’s castle in Vigoleno, Italy. In the early years of their friendship, before the outbreak of the Second World War (when Ernst would be interned as an ‘undesirable foreigner’ near Aix-en-Provence), the pair had experimented in gold.
However, nothing memorable emerged and they didn’t work together again until the late 1950s. Using the repousse technique Hugo had perfected whilst working on the Picasso compotiers, they produced a series of pendants that were superbly lightweight and textural for their size.
Executed in 22 to 24ct gold, Ernst’s jewels are some of the most arresting of the Hugo collaborations. Although all are technically ‘pendants’, some measure as much as 15 cm in diameter, making them more breastplate than delicate jewel.
Ernst was closely involved in the Surrealist and Dada movements, and the step toward the oversized can be read in this context. He would no doubt have enjoyed the idea that the work began to wear the viewer rather than the other way around.
The jewels made by Max Ernst are dramatic and abstract. They refer to faces but no face is identifiable.
In many cases, the jewels made by Ernst are three dimensional with noses protruding and hollows for eyes. They refer to faces but no face is identifiable; nor are they distinctly recognisable as being made by Ernst. Their size and the volume of pure gold makes them arresting. The textured surfaces are a nod to the techniques Ernst often used in his painting – a combination of abstract images mixed with reality.