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Max Ernst

Max Ernst, one of the twentieth century's most renowned artists, was a proponent of Dada and a founding member of Surrealism. His practice, influenced by philosophy, literature, and psychoanalysis, was always closely tied to technical experimentation. 

Biography of Max Ernst

Max Ernst was born into a middle-class Catholic family in the spring of 1891 in Brühl, a town in the Rhineland region of Germany. He was the oldest son among his eight siblings. His father also pursued painting as an amateur and was known for his strict disciplinary approach. Ernst's early interest in painting was encouraged by his father's passion for art.

Despite receiving no formal artistic training, the artist enrolled at the University of Bonn in 1910. There, he studied philosophy and abnormal psychology, which profoundly influenced his future work. During his time at the university, Ernst made visits to asylums, sparking his fascination with the art produced by the mentally ill. He saw this art as a means to tap into primal emotions and unrestricted imagination.

While he was engrossed in coursework covering subjects like the history of art, psychology, philosophy, philology, and literature, his passion for painting steadily grew. By 1910, Ernst was actively creating sketches within the serene surroundings of the Bruhl castle's garden landscape, as well as crafting self-portraits and portraits of his sister. In 1914, the artist completed his studies and decided to dedicate himself entirely to the pursuit of art.

In 1911, Ernst crossed paths with August Macke, an expressionist painter renowned as one of the key figures in The Rhineland Expressionist Artist collective. Forming a close friendship with Macke, Ernst actively immersed himself in the company of this group of artists and began writing for the newspaper Volksmund in Bonn. The following year, in 1912, he attended the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, where he found inspiration in the works of eminent artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh. In the same year, Ernst debuted showcasing his artwork for the first time alongside The Rhineland Expressionists and at the First German Autumn Salon hosted at Herwarth Walden's Sturm Gallery in Berlin.

1913 witnessed his participation in several group exhibitions. During this period, Ernst also encountered two influential figures: the French artists Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay, leading him to travel to Paris. In 1914, the artist met with the German-French multidisciplinary artist Jean Arp in Cologne. This meeting marked the beginning of a profound and enduring artistic friendship between the two, which lasted for five decades.

Ernst's life took a significant turn during World War I when he was conscripted into the German army, serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Upon his return in 1918, he embarked on a transformative artistic journey, convinced that traditional approaches to art were no longer relevant.

In 1919, Ernst visited the Swiss-German painter Paul Klee in Munich and explored the works of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. In the same year, the artist created his initial collages, an artistic technique that involves assembling various forms to construct an artwork. This collage method would become one of the primary techniques in Ernst's artistic practice in the future.

In 1919, Ernst, along with Jean Arp and the social activist and artist Johannes Theodor Baargeld (Alfred Emanuel Ferdinand Grünwald), established the Cologne Dada group. Dada, or Dadaism, represented an avant-garde art movement in early 20th-century Europe that focused on the negation and ridicule of the established world and served as a precursor to the later Surrealist movement. Between 1919 and 1920, members of the Cologne Dada group actively published various Dadaist works, including publications such as "Der Strom" and "Die Schammade." In 1920, Ernst, Baargeld, and Arp organized a highly controversial Dada exhibition, prominently featuring themes of nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments. This provocative exhibition took place in a public restroom and was closed by the police on grounds of obscenity. However, it was later reopened when the charges were dropped.

In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris, where he quickly forged a friendship with the French artist André Breton, who organized an exhibition of Ernst's collages at the Galerie Au sans Pareil in 1921. Alongside Breton and another French artist, Paul Éluard, Ernst actively participated in Surrealist activities. In 1922, Ernst entered France without the required documents, settling in the suburb of the French capital, Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. There, he entered into a complex relationship known as a ménage à trois with Paul Éluard and his wife, Gala.

In 1924, Ernst, Gala, and Paul briefly traveled to Monaco and Saigon, a city in southern Vietnam. During this journey, they decided that Gala would remain with Paul. Consequently, Ernst returned to Paris and established his studio in 1925, located at 22, rue Tourlaque. In the same year, he became one of the founding members of the Surrealist group. In 1927, Ernst married Marie-Berthe Aurenche, the sister of the screenwriter Jean Aurenche.

Ernst's first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1932. In 1934, Max Ernst ventured into sculpture, applying improvised techniques in this medium, much as he had done in his painting practice.

In 1936, Ernst went through a divorce with Marie-Berthe Aurenche. Following this, he decided to leave the Surrealist group. He relocated to Saint-Martin d’Ardèche in Southern France, accompanied by his lover, the artist Leonora Carrington. Their partnership was marked by mutual support for each other's artistic talents and visions, leading to several collaborative projects. However, their time together was interrupted by Ernst's arrest by the Nazis shortly after their occupation of France. Fortunately, with the intervention of Paul Éluard and several other friends, he was released a few weeks later.

In 1938, American art collector Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim acquired several of Ernst's artworks, which she exhibited in her new gallery in London, UK. In 1941, Peggy Guggenheim helped Ernst escape to the United States. He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, who experienced a complete breakdown, leading to her institutionalization. Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim married in December 1941.

From 1941 to 1945, Max Ernst resided in New York, where he, along with other European emigrant painters such as Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall, played a pivotal role in inspiring the development of Abstract Expressionism. During his time in the United States, Ernst's works took on a surrealistic approach, reflecting the poignant social realities of the era.

In October 1946, Max Ernst entered into a marriage with fellow Surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning. Subsequently, from 1946 to 1952, they lived in Arizona, where Ernst developed a strong interest in sculpture. During this period, he created numerous sculptures primarily composed of assembled everyday objects.

Ernst maintained his innovative artistic pursuits in his later years. After returning to France in 1953, he continued to experiment with themes that had preoccupied him in the United States. In 1954, just a year later, Ernst participated in the Venice Biennale and was honored with the prestigious Grand Prize for painting, one of the top accolades in the art world. He became a French citizen in 1958.

The artist passed away on April 1, 1976, just a day before his 85th birthday. In the years following his death, his artistic legacy continued to receive widespread acclaim. Today, Max Ernst is celebrated as one of Germany's most influential artists of the 20th century, leaving an indelible mark on the world of art.

Max Ernst's Art Style

During 1920, Ernst created notable Dada collages and photomontages, such as "Here Everything Is Still Floating" (1920). This artwork was crafted from cutout photographs of insects, fish, and anatomical drawings, ingeniously arranged to suggest a multitude of identities for the depicted elements. Ernst also produced a series of collages using materials like school textbooks, educational placards, and mail-order catalogs, creating surreal and bizarre juxtapositions of images.

In 1922, Ernst created the artwork "A Friends' Reunion," in which he depicted himself alongside all his associates. In his works from this period, he combined painting, assemblage, and collage techniques to create large-scale pieces with enigmatic narratives, as seen in works like "Oedipus Rex" (1922) and "Teetering Woman" (1923).

In 1925, Ernst made a significant artistic discovery: the technique of frottage. This creative method involves using a pencil or another drawing tool to make rubbings over a textured surface. The resulting drawing can be left in its original state or serve as the foundation for further artistic refinement. Ernst's exploration of frottage culminated in a series of works published in his 1926 book titled "Histoire Naturelle." With the assistance of Joan Miró, the artist also experimented with another technique known as grattage. Grattage involves scraping paint from a canvas, typically while it is still wet. One of his most renowned paintings created using grattage is "Forest and Dove," which portrays a nocturnal scene featuring a forest filled with peculiar and abstract trees. In addition to frottage and grattage, Max Ernst also worked with the technique of decalcomania. This is a decorative method that entails transferring engravings and prints onto pottery or other materials.

Among the most recurrent symbols in Max Ernst's body of work are depictions of forests and doves, along with the fantastical birdlike creature known as Loplop. Loplop makes appearances in Ernst's collages, such as "Loplop presents André Breton," and serves as a form of storytelling and self-commentary in his collage books, including "La Femme 100 têtes" and "Une Semaine de bonté," both created between 1929 and 1939. The artist, often assuming the form of Loplop, appeared in his works in various ways, either through captions or pictorial representations, throughout his artistic career. Examples include paintings like "Loplop Introduces a Young Girl" (1930) and "Loplop Introduces Loplop" (1930).

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