SynopsisMax Ernst was a German-born Surrealist who helped shape the emergence of in America post-World War II. Armed with an academic understanding of Freud, Ernst often turned to his work-whether sculpture, painting, or collage-as a means of processing his experience in World War I and unpacking his feelings of dispossession in its wake.
Key Ideas / Information
ChildhoodMax Ernst was born into a middle-class family of nine children on April 2, 1891 in Brühl, Germany, near Cologne. Ernst first learned painting from his father, a teacher with an avid interest in academic painting. Other than this introduction to amateur painting at home, Ernst never received any formal training in the arts and forged his own artistic techniques in a self-taught manner instead. After completing his studies in philosophy and psychology at the University of Bonn in 1914, Ernst spent four years in the German army, serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts.
Early TrainingThe horrors of World War I had a profound and lasting impact on both the subject matter and visual texture of the burgeoning artist, who mined his personal experiences to depict absurd and apocalyptic scenes. This subversive tendency remained strong in Ernst throughout his career, as the world is literally turned upside down in many of his works. Returning to Germany after World War I, Ernst became a leader of the Dada movement in Cologne while maintaining close ties with the Parisian avant-garde. He began creating his first collages in 1919, reworking mundane materials such as manuals on botany to create stunning, fantastical images.
Mature PeriodIn 1922, Ernst left his first wife to flee to Paris, where he remained until 1941. In this time, Surrealism came to displace Dadaism with the publication of André Breton's "First Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924, and Ernst became one of the movement's founding members. He developed the technique of frottage (the French word for "rubbing"), laying paper on the floor and rubbing over it with pencil to create the textural effect of wood. This emphasis on the contact between materials, as well as transforming everyday materials to arrive at an image that signified some sort of collective consciousness, would become central to Surrealism's ideal of automatism. This idea that the random and free interaction between artist and material produces an image of the artist's subconscious and inner state proved vital to Abstract Expressionists, particularly Jackson Pollock.
Late Period and DeathWar and Fascism followed Ernst to France, and he was sent to internment camps three times before escaping to the United States in 1941. Ernst found his third wife in Peggy Guggenheim, the flamboyant socialite and patron of the arts, who gave her husband prime access to the art scene of New York City. It was here that Ernst, along with a circle of European Surrealists, began to inspire the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in a concrete way. Not before long, Ernst moved to Sedona, Arizona with his fourth wife, the American painter Dorothea Tanning. Ernst and Tanning moved back to France in 1953, where Ernst worked until his death in Paris in 1976.
LegacyMax Ernst achieved a rare feat in the life of an artist, which is to establish a glowing reputation and critical following in three countries (Germany, France, and the United States) in the span of his career. Although Ernst is an artist who is better known by art historians and academics than by the general public today, his influence in shaping the direction of mid-century American art (particularly Abstract Expressionism) is easily recognizable.
THE ARTIST'S INFLUENCE ON ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM MOVEMENT
Max Ernst's arrival in New York during World War II (1941), along with other European avant-garde painters such as Marcel Duchamp, electrified a generation of American artists. Ernst's rejection of traditional painting (as symbolized by the classical style of his father's work) in favor of his own unique techniques (collage, frottage, grattage) captivated young American painters, who similarly sought to forge a fresh and unorthodox approach to painting. He had a particularly strong effect on the direction of Jackson Pollock's painting, who became interested in the collage aspects of Ernst's work, as well as his tendency to use his art as an externalization of his internal state.
Max Ernst's son, Jimmy Ernst, became a well-known German/American Abstract Expressionist after the war, and helped to cement his father's involvement in the formation of the movement, as he provided him with access to all of its key players, including Pollock and De Kooning.
Below are Max Ernst's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1891 - 1976
Quotes"Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation."
On his collages: "I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary capacities and by the hallucinatory succession of contradictory images superimposed, one upon the other, with the persistence and rapidity characteristic of amorous memories."
"The role of the painter . . . is to project that which sees itself in him."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
Written by ArtistUne Semaine De Bonte: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage
La Femme 100 Tetes
BiographiesMax Ernst: Life and Work
Max Ernst: Dream and Revolution
Max Ernst and Alchemy : A Magician in Search of Myth
PaintingsMax Ernst: A Retrospective
Max Ernst: Oeuvre-Katalog, the Graphic Work
Max Ernst: The Compleat Experimenter
April 12, 1976
AudioSurrealism in New York City - Ernst's significance to the Surrealist movement is explored in a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum.
Artist in Popular CultureThe Mars Volta - This American rock band uses images from Ernst's collage novel Une Semaine de Bonte in their album booklets.
Websites about the Artistwww.MaxErnst.com
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|André Masson was a French painter and one of the pioneers of Surrealism. His practice of "automatic drawing" consisted of methodically supressing his conscious mind while creating art, thus allowing Masson to work from his subconscious. He was also known to work after long periods of forced hunger and sleep deprivation, resulting in quasi-hallucinatory images.
|The Swiss-born painter Paul Klee worked in a variety of styles, including expressionism, geometric abstraction, and collage. His most famous works have a mystical quality and make use of linear and pictorial symbols.
ArtStory: Paul Klee Page
|The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp Page
|Yves Tanguy was a French painter and one of the key figures of French Surrealism in the early 20th century. Having never received any formal training, Tanguy was a self-taught painter who became best known for his highly imaginitive landscapes and detailed precision.
|Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp) was a German-French artist who incorporated chance, randomness, and organic forms into his sculptures, paintings, and collages. He was involved with Zurich Dada, Surrealism, and the Abstraction-Creation movement.
|André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: André Breton Page
|Paul Eluard was a French poet, and one of the original participants in the French Surrealism movement, forming strong ties with the likes of Breton, Aragon and Ernst. Eluard was also active in the French Resistance during World War II, but later in life joined the Communist Party, became a Stalin sympathizer and renounced the Surrealism movement.
|Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism which many thought had led to the war. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada Page
|Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism Page
|Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop Art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
ArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Barnett Newman was an Abstract Expressonist painter in New York who painted large-scale fields of solid color, interrupted by vertical lines or "zips." His sometimes narrow or boxy canvases, part painting and part sculpture, were influential for Minimalism.
ArtStory: Barnett Newman Page
|Jimmy Ernst, an artist and the son of Surrealist painter Max Ernst, played an active role in the Abstract Expressionist scene in New York, where he served as director of the Art of This Century gallery.
|Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector and patron of the arts. She gave important exhibitions to many modern, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
ArtStory: Peggy Guggenheim Page
|Werner Spies is a German art scholar, writer and historian. He is the former director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and a highly-regarded scholar of the sculpture of Pablo Picasso and the work of Surrealist Max Ernst.