Max Ernst

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Max Ernst
Born April 2 1891(1891-04-02)
Brühl, Germany
Died April 1 1976 (aged 84)
Paris, France
Nationality German
Field painting, sculpture, poetry
Movement Dada, Surrealism

Max Ernst (April 2, 1891 - April 1, 1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet, considered one of the chief representatives of Dadaism and Surrealism. Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature (poetry, art manifestoes, art theory), theater, and graphic design, which concentrated its anti-war politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works.

Like Surrealism and many other modern art movements, Dadaism reflected the collapse of the cherished ideals of Western society. In the wake of the Industrial revolution, the "death of God," and the breakdown of pre-modern traditional society, the old verities no longer provided a stable basis for society. This had given rise to Modernism, and the rise of Progressivism, which held that society was evolving toward ever more perfect forms. This view was smashed by the catastrophe of the First World War. Dada represented a rebellion against that failure and all the established verities.

Early life

Max Ernst was born in Brühl, Germany, near Cologne. In 1909, he enrolled in the University at Bonn to study philosophy but soon abandoned the courses. He began painting that year, but never received any formal artistic training. During World War I he served in the German army, which was a momentous interruption in his career as an artist. He stated in his autobiography, "Max Ernst died the 1st of August, 1914."

Dada and surrealism

After the war, filled with new ideas, Ernst, Jean Arp, and social activist Alfred Grünwald, formed the Cologne, Germany Dada group. In 1918, he married the art historian Luise Straus, but it was a stormy relationship that would not last. The couple had a son who was born in 1920, the artist Jimmy Ernst. (Luise died in Auschwitz in 1944.) In 1919, Ernst visited Paul Klee and created paintings, block prints and collages, and experimented with mixed media.

In 1922, he joined fellow Dadaists André Breton, Gala, Tristan Tzara, and Paul Éluard at the artistic community of Montparnasse. Constantly experimenting, in 1925, he invented a graphic art technique called frottage, which uses pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images.

The next year he collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró's help, Ernst pioneered grattage, in which he troweled pigment from his canvases. He also explored with the technique of decalcomania which involves pressing paint between two surfaces.[1] Ernst developed a fascination with birds that was prevalent in his work. His alter ego in paintings, which he called Loplop, was a bird. He suggested this alter-ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans. He said his sister was born soon after his bird died. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists' work, such as Loplop presents André Breton. Ernst drew a great deal of controversy with his 1926 painting, The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter.[2] In 1927, he married Marie-Berthe Aurenche, and it is thought his relationship with her may have inspired the erotic subject matter of The Kiss and other works of that year.[3] In 1930, he appeared in the film, L'âge d'or, directed jointly by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Ernst began to make sculpture in 1934, and spent time with Alberto Giacometti. In 1938, the American heiress and artistic patron Peggy Guggenheim acquired a number of Max Ernst's works which she displayed in her new museum in London.

World War II and after

In 1938, he was interned in Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence along with fellow surrealist, Hans Bellmer, who had recently emigrated to Paris upon the outbreak of World War II. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Eluard, and other friends including the journalist Varian Fry he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the Nazi occupation of France, he was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo, but managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Guggenheim.[4] He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, and she suffered a major mental breakdown. Ernst and Guggenheim arrived in the United States in 1941, and were married the following year. Along with other artists and friends (Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall) who had fled from the war and lived in New York City, Ernst helped inspire the development of Abstract expressionism.

His marriage to Guggenheim did not last, and in Beverly Hills, California, in October of 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, he married Dorothea Tanning. The couple first made their home in Sedona, Arizona. In 1948, Ernst wrote the treatise, Beyond Painting. As a result of the publicity, he began to achieve financial success.

In 1953, he and Tanning moved to a small town in the south of France where he continued to work. The City, and the Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais in Paris, published a complete catalog of his works.

Ernst died on April 1, 1976, in Paris. He was interred there at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Selected works

Max-Ernst-Museum Brühl
  • Trophy, Hypertrophied (1919)
  • Aquis Submersus (1919)
  • Little Machine Constructed by Minimax Dadamax in Person (1919-1920)
  • The Hat Makes the Man (1920)
  • Murdering Airplane (1920)
  • The Elephant Celebes (1921)
  • Pietà or Revolution by Night (1923)
  • Forest and Dove (1927)
  • The Wood (1927)
  • Loplop Introduces Loplop (1930)
  • Une Semaine de Bonté (1934)


Ernst's son, Jimmy, and his grandson, Eric, are both artists and writers. Jimmy Ernst died in 1984, and was a well known German/American abstract expressionist painter, who lived on the south shore of Long Island. His memoirs, A Not-So-Still Life, were published shortly before his death.

In 2005, "Max Ernst: A Retrospective" opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and included works such as Celebes (1921), Ubu Imperator (1923), and Fireside Angel (1937), which is one of the few definitively political pieces and is sub-titled The Triumph of Surrealism depicting a raging bird-like creature that symbolizes the wave of fascism that took over Europe. The exhibition also includes Ernst's works that experiment with free association writing and the techniques of frottage, created from a rubbing from a textured surface; grattage, involving scratching at the surface of a painting; and decalcomania, which involves altering a wet painting by pressing a second surface against it and taking it away.[5]

The writer J. G. Ballard makes numerous references to the art works of Max Ernst in his 1970 experimental novel, The Atrocity Exhibition. Many of Ernst's works from Une Semaine de Bonté are used in albums by American rock groups.


  1. Europe After the Rain.
  2. Joachim Kahl, The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Infant Jesus: A philosophical Meditation on a painting from Max Ernst Retrieved June 20, 2014.
  3. Lucy Flint, The Kiss, The Guggenheim Fellowship.
  4. Olga's Gallery, Max Ernst biography. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  5. ArtInfo, A Max Ernst Retrospective Opens Today in NY. Retrieved April 23, 2008.

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External links

All links retrieved November 8, 2022.


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