Friday, March 7, 2014

Ernst, Max

oil on canvas
80 x 67.5 cm
location unknown

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. He was a major contributor to the theory and practice of Surrealism. His work challenged and disrupted what he considered to be repressive aspects of European culture, in particular Christian doctrine, conventional morality and the aesthetic codes of Western academic art. Until the mid-1920s he was little known outside a small circle of artists and writers in Cologne and Paris, but he became increasingly successful from c. 1928 onwards. After 1945 he was respected and honored as a surviving representative of a "heroic" generation of avant-garde artists.

He was born near Cologne as the first son of a teacher of the deaf and amateur painter. He studied philosophy and psychiatry at Bonn University, but he never received any formal artistic training, though he had a deep interest in painting.

In 1914 Ernst got acquainted with Hans Arp, and their lifelong friendship began. With the outburst of the First World War Ernst was conscripted to the army, where he served in the field artillery till the end of the war. He fought in France and Poland, and recovered from clinical death, an experience which was to deepen his decision to take up art. After demobilization he settled in Cologne, where he founded a group of Dadaists. The exhibition of 1920 at the Winter Brewery in Cologne was closed by the police on the grounds of obscenity.

In 1922, Max Ernst, following an invitation of his Dadaist friends, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, and others, moved to Paris. In the paintings of his early Parisian period he was able to successfully combine the techniques of painting, assemblage and collage in large-scale paintings with enigmatic plots. In 1924 Andre Breton published the First Surrealist Manifesto. Ernst was among those who shared the views and aims of the Surrealists and took an active part in founding the new movement. In the late 1920s he turned to the beloved motifs of German Romanticism and revived them in a new, Surrealistic, manner. Between 1929 and 1939 he began producing books of collages.

In 1937 Ernst distanced himself from Breton and the Communist group of Surrealists, though he remained true to the chosen methods of work. In 1938 he left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardeche in the South of France. With the outbreak of the Second World War he was arrested by French authorities for being a "hostile alien". Thanks to the intercession of Eluard, he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the French occupation by the Nazis, he was arrested by the Gestapo, managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a sponsor of the arts.

In 1941-1945 he lived in New York, where he not only worked but also shared his knowledge and experience with younger American colleagues, thus leaving a lasting and profound influence on the development of American modern art. In 1946-52 he lived in Arizona, surrounded by landscapes that resembled his own pictorial phantasmagorias. In the USA he got interested in sculpture. In 1953 he returned to Europe and settled in France. In the 1950s he got world acclaim. In his late works he returned to the subjects of his early, Dada period. He died on 1st April 1976 in Paris, one day before his 85th birthday. His paintings, steeped in Freudian metaphors, private mythology, and childhood memories, are regarded today as icons of Surrealist art.