Childhood & Early Life
Max Ernst was born on April 2, 1891, in Brühl, near Cologne in Germany to Philip and Luise Ernest. The couple had nine children out of which, Max was born third.
Himself hard of hearing, Philip Ernst earned his living by teaching the deaf. At the same time, he was an amateur painter and spent a lot of time sketching and painting. Max got the inspiration to paint from his father.
In 1909, Max enrolled at the University of Bonn. Here he studied a varied range of subjects like philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, literature, and art history. From now on, he also began to take up painting and sketching seriously.
As a student of psychiatry, Max often visited mental asylum. The inmates there fascinated the artist in him. He also found pleasure in visiting the castle in Brühl and making sketches in its garden. However, until now he like his father was an amateur artist, and drew only for pleasure.
Things began to change in 1911, when Max befriended August Macke and influenced by him, he joined Die Rheinischen Expressionisten, an artists’ group founded by Macke. Soon, Max had a change of heart and decided to become a professional artist.
Visiting Sonderbund exhibition held in Cologne in 1912 was another important milestone in the life of Max Ernst. Here he came across works by great artists like Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Their works had deep influence on his approach to art.
From 1912 onwards, Max Ernst began to display his works in different exhibitions and made friends with many well known artists like Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay and Hans Arp. However, his life was interrupted as the World War erupted in the middle of 1914. He was drafted and sent to fight.
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Max returned to Cologne after being demobilized in 1918. In 1919, he went to Munich and visited Paul Klee. Under him, he studied the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, who founded the scuola metafisica art movement and had a profound influence on the surrealism.
This is also the year, when Max Ernst took up nihilistic art movement called Dada and created his first collage. Along with Johannes Theodor Baargeld, he also established a Dada group at Cologne. Hans Arp, who had by now become a close friend, also joined the group.
In 1919 and 1920, Ernst published a number of magazines, none of which survived for long. In addition, he also organized a number of Dada exhibitions. His photomontage ‘Here Everything Is Still Floating’ was created in 1920.
in 1921, Ernst met French poet André Breton and Paul Éluard. Ernst and Éluard became lifelong friend. In the same year Éluard bought Ernst’s paintings and collages to illustrate his poetry book, Répétitions.
Later in 1922, the two friends collaborated to bring out a book of poems and collages called ‘Les malheurs des immortels’. According to many critics, it is one of the best examples of authentic collaboration of surrealist works. Later, he also collaborated with André Breton.
This was also the year when Ernst migrated to France, leaving behind his wife and son. Because he could not get valid papers he had to use forged documents.
To support himself in Paris, Ernst undertook many odd jobs and at the same time continued painting. In 1923, he had his first exhibition in Paris at Salon des Indépendants. Later he took a trip to South East Asia and returned to Paris in 1924.
In 1924, he founded a group, Surrealists. It consisted of painters as well as writers, whose works evolved from the unconscious state of mind. This was also the year when Ernst began to paint full-time.
In 1925, Ernst established a studio at 22, rue Tourlaque. Sometime now he developed a new technique called like frottage. He also explored other surreal techniques like decalcomania.
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In 1926, he along with Spanish painter Joan Miró, created a new technique called grattage. This was also the year he painted ‘The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter’. It created great controversy.
In 1929, Ernst returned to collages and created collage novel titled ‘Woman with 100 heads’. It was a wordless novel, created by assembling illustrations from 19th and 20th century reading materials. Later in 1930, he published another collage novel ‘A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil’.
At the same time, Ernst became increasingly interested in birds and began to represent himself in a bird like form, he christened ‘Loplop’. In fact, Loplop was his alter ego and it appeared in many of his paintings and especially in his next collage novel titled ‘Une semaine de bonté’, published in 1934.
This was also the year, when he began experimenting with sculpture. Just as in paintings, Ernst used improvised media to create magnificent art objects. For example, his ‘Oedipus II’ was created out of wooden pails, dangerously balanced against one another.
When the World War II began in 1939, Ernst was declared undesirable foreigner and interned at Camp des Milles. Fortunately, he came out within few weeks on the intervention of his friends. When Germany occupied France, Ernst was arrested by Gestapo, the German Secret police.
However, with the help of his friends, he somehow managed to reach United States. Here, he continued with his artistic works and helped to develop abstract expressionism, an art form based on surrealism. That he was also influenced by African art is evident from his 1944 sculpture, ‘The King Playing with the Queen’.
Over the years, his works became less experimental. In sculpture, he used traditional materials, but spent his time and energy to perfect his modeling techniques. 'Two and Two Make One' (1956) and 'Immortel' (1966–67) are two examples of his creations of this period.
In addition, he continued creating marvels through drawing, painting, collages and lithographs. He also illustrated books by many well known authors including Lewis Carroll’s ‘Symbolic Logic’ (1966), ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ (1968), and ‘Lewis Carrols Wunderhorn’ (1970).
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1918, Max Ernst married Luise Straus, who was a student of art history and later became a well known journalist. The couple had a son named Hans-Ulrich Ernst, who later moved to the United States and changed his name to Jimmy Ernst. Jimmy was also a well-known artist.
Max and Luise did not stay together for long. In 1922, Ernst left behind his wife and son and moved to France. Later, he divorced Luise and settled permanently in Paris. Here he went into a ménage à trois or threesome relationship with his friend Paul Éluard and his wife Gala
In 1927, Ernst married Marie-Berthe Aurenche. The couple separated in 1937 and later divorced. It is said that this relationship inspired Ernst to create many paintings of erotic nature. The couple did not have any children.
In 1937, Ernst met Leonora Carrington, an English born Mexican painter. The couple left Paris and settled in Southern France. They collaborated in many projects and supported each other’s artistic development. Unfortunately, they were forced to separate on the onset of World War II.
Next in 1942, Ernst married American heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. The couple divorced in 1946 without producing any heir.
Also in 1946, Ernst tied the knot for the last time with Dorothea Margaret Tanning, a painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer and poet. The marriage lasted till Ernst death in 1976. They did not have any children.
Max Ernst died on April 1, 1976 in Paris. He was then 84 years old and was survived by his wife Dorothea and son Jimmy. He was interred at Père Lachaise Cemetery.