Ernst was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A
prolific artist, Max Ernst is considered to be one of the primary
Dada movement and
Surrealism. Max Ernst's paintings and collages, steeped in Freudian
metaphor, private mythology, and childhood memories, are regarded as
icons of Surrealist art. With the exception of Picasso, few artists have
played such a decisive role in the invention of modern techniques and
styles. Max Ernst did not like being associated with groups or being
categorized. Neither did he like being an ordinary person of the
sensible world. Being a self taught artist who was constantly
reinventing surrealism as an artistic theory, Max Ernst attended regular
meetings and exhibitions of the Surrealism. Being an abstract artist, he
had a bizarre collection of paintings, sculptures, and collages.
Max Ernst developed the technique "frottage," which is the process of putting paper or material on a textured surface and using a media to transfer the design onto the paper or media. Aside from being an artist Max Ernst also was a poet.
Max Ernst was born in April 1891 in Brühl, near Cologne, the first son of Philipp Ernst, teacher of the deaf and amateur painter, and his wife, Luise, née Kopp. 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. In 1918, he married the art historian Luise Straus, a stormy relationship that would not last. The next year Max Ernst visited Paul Klee and created his first paintings, block prints and collages, and experimented with mixed media. During World War I he served in the German army and after the war, filled with new ideas, Max Ernst, Jean Arp and social activist Alfred Grunwald, formed the Cologne, Germany Dada group but two years later in 1922, he returned to the artistic community at Montparnasse in Paris.
In 1924 André Breton published the First Surrealist Manifesto. Max Ernst was among those who shared the views and aims of the Surrealists and took an active part in founding the new movement. 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. Max Ernst said that one night when he was young he woke up and found that his beloved bird had died, and a few minutes later his father announced that his sister was born. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists' work, such as Loplop presents André Breton.
Max 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(shown here). In the late 1920s Ernst turned to the beloved motifs of German Romanticism and revived them in a new, Surrealistic, manner: dark forests, mysterious caves, gloomy cliffs, dead moonlight, figures and faces which appear like ghosts from interlacing branches and twigs. A summer spent together with Alberto Giacometti in 1934 awakened Ernst's interest in three-dimensionality. Max Ernst made the first three-dimensional version of his omnipresent bird image and experimented in this new area with increasing enthusiasm. He modeled sculptures into which he stuck objects of every-day use, which he then had cast in bronze.
In 1937 Max Ernst distanced himself from Breton and the Communist group of Surrealists, though he remained true to the chosen methods of work. Ernst had this to say about his feelings towards surrealism: "I was no longer able to feel at ease in the somewhat puritanical and disembodied intellectualism of the more orthodox Surrealists. I feel, at heart, a far greater affinity with the German Romantics than many of the French Surrealists..."
In 1938 Max Ernst left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in the South of France, where his famous picture "The Robing of the Bride" (shown here) was painted.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Max Ernst was detained as an enemy alien but with the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry in Marseille, he managed to escape the country with Peggy Guggenheim. They arrived in the United States in 1941 and were married the following year. Living in New York City, along with Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall, fellow avant-garde painters who had fled the War in Europe,
Max Ernst helped inspire the use of Abstract expressionism among American painters. He embraced all that America had to offer, delighting in the syntax, culture and landscape. But the United States was to fare better from the exchange, as Ernst generously shared all his knowledge and vision of art with young, modernist painters. Ernst’s work was predominantly drawn from subjectivity, inspired from his personal experiences and it relied heavily on spontaneity with juxtapositions of material and imagery - two creative ideals which were to become staples of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Indeed, it was while in New York that Ernst created some small paintings by swinging a punctured can of paint above a canvas laid on the floor, something, which no doubt captivated a young Jackson Pollack.
His marriage to Guggenheim did not last, and in Beverly Hills, California in October 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet P. 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, Max Ernst began to achieve financial success. In his late works the artist returned to the subjects of his early, Dada period. Max Ernst died on April 1st 1976, in Paris, one day before his 85th birthday.