Tuesday 20 September 2011

Max Ernst - part 1

This is the first of a two-part post on the works of the German artist Max Ernst. Part one looks at his paintings, part two at the extraordinary collages from his graphic novel Une semaine de bonté.

Later I will also have a look at the work of his wife Dorothea Tanning, and that of his son Jimmy Ernst.
Max Ernst was born in 1891 in Brühl, Germany, near Cologne. In 1909, he enrolled in the University at Bonn to study philosophy but soon abandoned the course. He began painting that year, never receiving any formal artistic training.

During World War I he served in the German army, a momentous interruption in his career as an artist. He stated in his autobiography, "Max Ernst died the 1st of August, 1914." After the war, filled with new ideas, Ernst, Jean Arp and social activist Alfred Grünwald, formed the Cologne, Germany Dada group. In 1918 he married the art historian Luise Straus — a stormy relationship that would not last. The couple had a son, born in 1920, the artist Jimmy Ernst. (Luise died in Auschwitz in 1944.) In 1919 Ernst visited Paul Klee and created paintings, block prints and collages, experimenting with mixed media.

In 1922, he joined fellow Dadaists André Breton, Gala, Tristan Tzara, Paul Éluard at the artistic community of Montparnasse. In 1925 he invented a graphic art technique called frottage that uses pencil rubbings of objects as an image source. The next year he collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró's help, Ernst pioneered grattage in which he troweled pigment from his canvases. He also explored with the technique of decalcomania that involves pressing paint between two surfaces.

Ernst developed a fascination with birds that was prevalent in his work. His alter ego in paintings, which he called Loplop, was a bird. He suggested this alter ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans. He said his sister was born soon after his bird died. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists' work, such as Loplop presents André Breton. Ernst drew a great deal of controversy with his 1926 painting The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter.

1926 The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses
In 1927 he married Marie-Berthe Aurenche, and it is thought his relationship with her may have inspired the erotic subject matter of The Kiss (see below) and other works of that year. Ernst began to make sculpture in 1934, and spent time with Alberto Giacometti. In 1938, the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim acquired a number of Max Ernst's works that she displayed in her new museum in London.

With the outbreak of World War II, French authorities arrested Max Ernst as a "hostile alien". Thanks to the intercession of Paul Eluard, and other friends including the journalist Varian Fry he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the French occupation by the Nazis, the Gestapo arrested him again, this time, he managed to escape and flee to America with the help of artists sponsor Peggy Guggenheim. He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, and she suffered a major mental breakdown. Ernst and Guggenheim arrived in the United States in 1941 and were married the following year. Along with other artists and friends (Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall) who had fled from the war and lived in New York City, Ernst helped inspire the development of Abstract expressionism.

His marriage to Guggenheim did not last, and in Beverly Hills, California in October of 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, he married Dorothea Tanning. The couple first made their home in Sedona, Arizona. In 1948 Ernst wrote the treatise Beyond Painting. As a result of the publicity, he began to achieve financial success.
In 1953 he and Tanning moved to a small town in the south of France where he continued to work. The City, and the Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais in Paris published a complete catalogue of his works.
Ernst died on April 1, 1976, in Paris one day before his birthday. He was interred there at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

1916 Türme [Towers] 
oil on canvas

1919 Fruit of Long Experience 
painted wood relief

1920 Katharina Ondulata 
gouache, pencil, ink on printed paper

1920 The Small Fistule That Says Tic Tac 
gouache on paper

1921 Celebes

1921 The Gramineous Bicycle..., 
gouache, ink, pencil on printed paper

1922 Oedipus Rex

1923 Revolution by Night

1924 Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale 
oil on wood and wooden elements

1925 Mer et soleil [Sea and Sun] 
oil on canvas

1925 The Couple in Lace 
oil on canvas

1927 Den imaginära sommaren

1927 The Kiss 
oil on canvas

1932 The Postman Cheval 

1933 At the First Cleat Word 
oil on plaster on canvas

1935 Terre Écossaise

1940 The Robing of the Bride

1943-4 The Eye of Silence 
oil on canvas

1947 Design in Nature 
oil on canvas

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