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Germany 1891 – France 1976

  • Movements: also worked in the United States of America

Habakuk 1934/1970 sculptures, bronze, patina
Technique: bronze, patina
Impression: 4/10
Edition: no.4 of a planned edition of ten; four only cast
Primary Insc: signed and numbered 'Cast #6', inscribed on rear of base
449.9 h x 162.9 w x 162.9 d cm ; weight 2200.00 kg
Purchased with the assistance of the National Australia Bank
Accession No: NGA 2006.509
Subject: Art style: Surrealism
© Max Ernst. Licensed by Viscopy


  • Max Ernst believed that his fascination with birds stemmed from his sister being born soon after his pet bird died. He made this monumental bug-eyed, big-beaked, dark bird-idol as a mock tribute to the Jewish prophet Habakkuk’s condemnation of the makers of idols, that is, sculptors: ‘What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?’

    Ernst may also have intended it to embody a perceived parallel between the visionary powers of the prophet and his own as an artist, for the plinth bears a negative impression of one of the bird’s eyes and at the foot of the figure is a third eye. The eyes were cast from a desert stone found by Roland Penrose, the English Surrealist collector, painter and poet, who gave it to Ernst in 1929.

    Ernst created Habakuk’s body from casts of flowerpots, and the stacked and turning forms, the openings between them, and the lack of stable horizontal planes suggest impending movement. Its totemic form places Habakuk in the context of Ernst’s collection of art from Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, 96 works of which are held in the National Gallery of Australia.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008