It’s a beautiful day in Celebes – Celebes by Max Ernst

Celebes by Max Ernst , 1921 (Via Tate)
Celebes by Max Ernst , 1921 (Via Tate)


‘Follow me’ says the gloved hand hovering towards the pachyderm. With its feet looking like heavy poles, it slowly starts to stagger and march towards where it is told. Why would a colossal elephant trust a thin headless female body? Perhaps they are acquaintances, or perhaps the animal does its own thing and has often drifted to this side of the field, an area it’s not supposed to explore.

It’s a beautiful day in Celebes, a shoal is out for a swim, the grey sky forecasts a tornado, and the totems take out their red toys ready to play. The robotic elephant, eager to participate in the activities of the day, thought it could deviate from its usual constraints and wander the neighborhood.

This pachyderm is peculiar, embarrassed by its volume, it is endearing and heartening. The tubular trunk  displays nostrils embellished with bull horns and a chiseled metal collar. The orifice in the center of its body adds a comical note to this already amusing character. As a decorative upper body part, it endows a thick edged saucepan lid. A geometrical composition overhangs from the top of the lid, and what appears to be a third eye, lodged in the rectangular blue shape, watches the surroundings with attentive consideration.

The giant mass frolics in between the poles and the fish, curious and excited to discover where the headless woman with the gloved hand is leading it to. Her body language does not reflect a positive omen, as her left shoulder hunches over; if she had a head it might lean to one side too. She expresses exhaustion and defeat, the opposite of the friendly pachyderm. A feeling of sadness grows as we watch the scene. How could we urge the elephant not to place such blind faith in the headless lady?

The composition appears at first childish and light-hearted, but as the underlying tone emerges, it becomes threatening. War, incomprehension and atrocities come to mind,  as does the feeling of being removed from a pleasant situation.

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