Max Ernst

Max Ernst was a celebrated twentieth century German graphic artists, sculptor, painter and poet. Aside from being a refined artist, Ernst had his hand in pioneering the two seminal movements of early twentieth century; the Dadaism and Surrealism.

Max Ernst was born to a middle-class Catholic family on April 2, 1891, in Brühl, German Empire. He inherited the art of painting from his father, who taught deaf and amateur painters. Besides learning to paint from his father, Ernst also developed fondness for defying authority under his father’s influence. In 1990, he attended the University of Bonn and opted to study multifarious disciplines including art and science; art history, literature, philosophy, psychology and psychiatry. Upon his visits to asylums, Ernst became fascinated by mentally ill patient’s art. Subsequently, he had the opportunity of meeting August Macke and as they became close friends, Ernst joined his art group Rheinischen Expressionisten and upon which he decided to pursue his artistic skills. In the following years, he attended several exhibitions which showcased artwork of art legends such as Pablo Picasso and post-Impressionists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Their body of work deeply influenced his approach to art.

Upon his completion of studies in the summer of 1914, Ernst was conscripted into German army at the advent of World War I and served on both the Western and the Eastern front. Ernst recorded his war experience in his autobiography and described his drafting into army as his demise and resurrection when he returned home to sanity. He was fortunate to survive the war as his fellow artists Macke and Franz Marc’s lives were claimed by the same war. In 1918, Ernst was demobilized and upon his return to Cologne he tied the knot with Luise Straus, an art history student. In 1919, he went to Munich to visit Paul Klee and study Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. Inspired by Chirico’s work and other art material he read up while teaching, he created first of his many collages.

1919 is also marked as the year when Ernst came together with social activist Johannes Theodor Baargeld and others to form the Cologne Dada group. In the following years, Barrgeld and he mounted many exhibitions and published magazines Der Strom and die schammade. While Ernst excelled in his professional life, his personal life was considerably disrupted. His marriage with Luise ended after a brief period. Soon after, he found a new friend Paul Éluard, who bought two of his finest paintings. They collaborated on the magazine Les malheurs des immortels and Litterature with André Breton. Moreover, he moved to France illegally and lived a scandalous life with Éluard and his wife. To make both ends meet, Ernst had to take up several odd jobs for two years.

In 1925, he succeeded in establishing his own studio in France and kept experimenting with the new forms of art. The same year he invented a graphic art technique called frottage which falls under Surrealist techniques now. The technique employs the pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images. Another popular invention of his is the ‘grattage’ technique which revealed the imprint of hidden object underneath the paint on the canvas by scrapping it off. Ernst also applied this technique in one of his notable paintings, Forest and Dove. Some of his influential works include Oedipus Rex, Ubu Imperator, Loplop series, The Sky Marries the Earth, Surrealism and Painting, Aux petits agneaux and Napoleon in the Wilderness. Max Ernst died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 84.


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