b. 1891 Brühl, Germany – d. 1976 Paris, France
The painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet, Max Ernst, was one of the most prolific and influential artists of the 20th century. After serving in World War I Ernst returned and set up the Cologne Dada group alongside Hans Arp. Moving to Paris in 1922, he became a pioneer in the Surrealist movement with André Breton, heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis teachings. Ernst had studied philosophy and psychology and was particularly fascinated by Freud’s book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’; the use of the sub-conscious to unlock creativity.
Ernst collected catalogues, newspapers, scientific journals and 19th Century engravings to create collages of fantasy and dream imagery. Mixing the banal with eroticism, horror and humour, Ernst created haunting dreamscapes railing against social and political oppression and critiquing the meaningless horror of war. Highly experimental, Ernst invented the technique of frottage (pencil rubbings of textured surfaces) and grattage (scraping wet paint to reveal the canvas) as well as being one of the most important proponents of decalcomania (the technique of pressing paint between surfaces).
Ernst fled France to New York in 1941 joining fellow artists Piet Mondrian and Marcel Duchamp where he met and married Peggy Guggenheim who was an early champion of his work. In 1946 Ernst later married the surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning and spent time in the artistic community of Sedona, Arizona, before settling in France in 1953 and becoming a French citizen. In 1954 he won the main painting prize at the Venice Biennale. Notable exhibitions include the Art Institute Chicago, 1961, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1966 and Haus der Kunst Munich, 1979 as well as retrospectives in 2005 and 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, New York.