Max Ernst

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Max Ernst (1891-1976) was born on April 2, 1891 in Brühl, near Cologne. Ernst began studying classical philology but then became interested in art and literature through the 1912 Cologne Sonderbund Exhibit and his friendship with August Macke, whom he met in 1910-11...more.

max ernst and dorothea tanning

    Max Ernst & Dorothea Tanning, 1948
    Robert Bruce Inverarity

    © Smithsonian Institution (e-mail for further details)

He became acquainted with the 'Blaue Reiter', Apollinaire, Delaunay, Georges Grosz and Wieland Herzfelde as well as Hans Arp.

He fought in World War I in France and Poland, and recovered from clinical death, an experience which was to deepen his decision to take up art. Married the art historian Luise Straus (1918) and the next year, visited Paul Klee and created his first paintings, block prints and collages, and experimented with mixed media. Along with J. T. Baargeld and Hans Arp, he founded the Cologne Dada group, and in 1921 was invited by André Breton to Paris, where he befriended Tristan Tzara and Sophie Taeuber.

    'Painting must be...every time: invention, discovery, revelation' - Max Ernst

A year later, he moved there and illustrated the collage-novel Les Malheurs des immortels, to which Paul Éluard provided the texts. Illustrated further books of poetry by Eluard (1923) and created 17 wall murals for Eluard's house in Eaubonne (rediscovered in the 60's and exhibited).

In 1925 Ernst developed the frottage technique as it would be employed in his entire work process thereafter until his later graphic works. It was during this period that he created his series Histoire Naturelle, Bird Paintings, and Forests, and in 1926, the sets for Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Ballet. He collaborated with Joan Miró, and then with Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí on the film l'Age d'Or.

In 1927 he married Marie-Berthe Aurenche. Two years later, he created another collage-novel La Femme à 100 Têtes. His first exhibit in New York took place in 1931. Spent time in Maloja with Alberto Giacometti (1934) and created the collage-novel Une Semaine de Bonté. Began using the décalcomanie technique - a sort of decal painting (1936) and did the set decoration for Alfred Jarry's Ubu Enchaîné (1937). In the mean time, his work was being confiscated in Germany.


Ernst joined Leonora Carrington, and moved to southern France, Saint-Martin d'Ardèche in 1938. In 1939, he was sent to a concentration camp but set free again by Eluard's appeal. The very next year he was again sent to a concentration camp, this one in Aix-en-Provence, from which he attempted to escape twice.

Emigrated to the USA (1941), settled in New York and married the art collector Peggy Guggenheim. He began exhibiting in 1942 and met with other émigrés such as David Hare, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Began working on new plastic art (1944). Met the artist Dorothea Tanning (1942), they took life-time vows to each other in 1946 and moved to Sedona, Arizona. He wrote the treatise Beyond Painting (1948) and only returned to Europe on a visit in 1949-50.

A retrospective of his works was held on his 60th birthday in Brühl (though he rejected the honorary citizenship later offered to him). Guest lecturer in Hawaii. In 1953 he returned to Paris but was excluded from the Surrealist circle. At the 27th Biennial in Venice (1954), received the first prize, which helped him to get financially back on his feet. Settled in Touraine in 1955 and became a French citizen in 1958.

On his 70th birthday, his work was shown in various exhibitions, among others at the Tate Gallery in London and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne. In 1963 he and his wife Dorothea Tanning moved to the southern French town of Seilans. A retrospective was held at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. In 1964, his graphic series 'Maximiliana' printed, an important work. He designed stage sets and a fountain for the city of Ambois (1968). In 1975, retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais in Paris published a complete catalogue of his works, the Spies / Leppien Catalogue. A book in two volumes on his graphic work from 1906-1925 published.

Max Ernst died on April 1, 1976 in Paris. He is interred at the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.


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