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Monday, May 26, 2014

Max Ernst

L'Ange_du_Foyeur (Angel of the Hearth), 1937, Max Ernst--your worst nightmare.
Max Ernst Self-portrait, 1909
Every so often I come upon an artist of some importance whom I thought I'd already written on only to find in my search efforts that I've merely mentioned several times. One such artist who falls into that category is the German painter, Max Ernst. In studying the life of Mr. Ernst, it's difficult to decide which was the most colorful, the man or his art. Born near Cologne, Germany, in 1891, the third of nine children, Ernst was inspired as a child by his father, who was an amateur painter. His father was a strict disciplinarian. Young Max was strictly undisciplined, defying his father at every turn. Ernst first studied in Bonn, exploring a variety of academic disciplines before eventually settling on perhaps the least disciplined of the disciplines--art. His early influences include Picasso, Gauguin, and van Gogh as well as the art of those in mental institutions (one and the same in the case of van Gogh). In 1914, Ernst began a long friendship with fellow German artist Hans Arp (who was also French and Alsatian). Together, the two of them began a long friendship with Dada.
Rendezvous of Friends, 1922, Max Ernst.
The Surrealists: l to r in front row: René Crevel, Max Ernst (sitting on Dostoyevsky’s knee), Theodor Fraenkel, Jean Paulhan, Benjamin Péret, Johannes Baargeld, Robert Desnos. Back row: Philippe Soupault, Hans Arp, Max Morise, Raffaele Sanzio, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon (with wreath around his hips), André Breton, Giorgio de Chirico, Gala Eluard (the only Surrealist group portrait ever painted)..
Illustration to a Week of Kindness,
Max Ernst.
After WW I (in which Ernst drew maps for Germany) Ernst met and married the art journalist, Luise Straus his first of three wives (the wealthy heiress, Peggy Guggenheim was the second, the American painter, Dorothea Tanning his third). He also met Paul Klee and the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. Ernst's Dada paintings and collages are both fun and funny, his touch much lighter than that of his colleagues (right and bottom). As the Dada movement devoured itself, Ernst met and married Andre Breton's fledging Surrealist movement in the early 1920s. Here his paintings were anything but fun or funny. They take on a dark, sinister look. If Surrealism is all about painting dreams, Ernst made it about painting nightmares. Ernst is sometimes compared to Salvador Dali, but where Dali is eerie and ethereal, Ernst's paintings from this period are earthy and frightening, even terrifying. His Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (below, left) from 1924, only hints at this element of fear while in his L'Ange_du_Foyeur (top), from 1937, the terror bursts forth, realizing the worst in fears.

Oedipus Rex, 1922, Max Ernst
Two Children are Threatened by a
Nightingale, 1924, Max Ernst.
Later in his career, Max Ernst was also a sculptor, though Surrealism, if it played a part in this period at all, was more one of labeling than fact. Surrealism demands illusions, sculpture destroys illusions. It is real, concrete, three-dimensional. Whereas Ernst's 1922 Oedipus Rex (above) seems to presage the Pop movement, his bronze sculpture, Capricorn, from 1937, is Modernist--any fright is slight. Ernsts' years in Paris during the 1920s were among the most productive and creative of his whole career. His love life was likewise on the creative side, as he became involved in the marriage of his Surrealist friend, the poet, Paul Eluard, and his wife, Gala, in what amounted to a three-way marriage or "ménage a trois." Gala, whose sex drive was reputed to be quite strong, later married another member of the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dali.

Capricorn, 1947, Max Ernst

I couldn't resist including this painting by Ernst, The Virgin Correcting the Child Jesus, 1926. Sacrilegious? Perhaps, but also rather amusing and thought provoking.
(Note the three figures in the background window.)

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