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Item of the Week: Moving Max Ernst’s Bed

Wed, 03/13/2024 - 18:15

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a $38,000 bed? For Dallas Bauman Ernst (1923-2011), this was no idle daydream, it was a reality.

Dallas, a television producer and an artist in her own right, married into the Ernst family after meeting the surrealist painter and sculptor Jimmy Ernst (1920-1984) in the art department at Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood in 1946. The two moved around the country for a time after their marriage in 1947 before settling permanently in East Hampton in 1969.

Here their house on Lee Avenue became well known as a hangout for artists, writers, and musicians. Aside from the happening social scene, the house was also home to a variety of artworks, much of them made by Jimmy Ernst’s father, Max Ernst.

Max Ernst (1891-1976), the surrealist sculptor and painter, was one of the central members of the European Dada movement. One of his pieces, a bed surrounded by a brass cage, eventually made its way into his son and daughter-in-law’s Lee Avenue house.

Following Jimmy’s death, the bed was sold to Christie’s auction house in 1987 and auctioned off for $38,000. Of course, in order to sell the bed, it first had to be moved.

This was no mean feat, as can be seen in this photograph from The East Hampton Star’s archive. It shows pieces of the bed being moved through a second-story window. In addition to the brass cage, the bed’s other features included an African walnut frame, two disc-like mirrors decorated with lithographs, a sculpture of a tree branch for the headboard, built-in cabinets, and a 42-foot-square mink bedspread appliqued with surreal birds.

While the buyer was not disclosed in 1987, the bed was not ensconced in a private collection forever. In 1999, it was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it remains to this day.


Julia Tyson is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.

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