The beginning of April was both good and bad for Max Ernst as this represents his birth and death. Ernst was born on 2 April 1891 in the German city of Brühl and died on 1 April 1976 in Paris, France. He was a prolific German artist and pioneer of the both the Dada movement and Surrealism. In 1909 Ernst enrolled in the University of Bonn, studying philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry. He visited asylums and became fascinated with the art of the mentally ill patients; he also started painting that year.
In 1911 Ernst befriended August Macke and joined his Die Rheinischen Expressionisten group of artists, deciding to become an artist. In 1912 he visited the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, where works by Pablo Picasso and post-Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin profoundly influenced his approach to art. His own work was exhibited the same year together with that of the Das Junge Rheinland group, at Galerie Feldman in Cologne, and then in several group exhibitions in 1913.
Ernst was drafted into the army during WW1 which he thoroughly hated. Several German Expressionist painters died in action during the war, among them Macke and Franz Marc. Ernst was demobilized in 1918 and returned to Cologne. He soon married art history student Luise Straus, whom he met in 1914.
In 1919 Ernst, along with social activist Johannes Theodor Baargeld, and several colleagues founded the Cologne Dada group. In 1919–20 Ernst and Baargeld published various short-lived magazines such as Der Strom and die schammade, and organized Dada exhibitions.
- Ernst’s marriage to Luise was short-lived. In 1921 he met Paul Éluard, who became a close lifelong friend. In 1922, unable to secure the necessary papers, Ernst entered France illegally and settled into a ménage à trois with Éluard and his wife Gala in Paris, leaving behind his wife and son.
During his first two years in Paris Ernst took various odd jobs to make a living and continued to paint. In 1923 the Éluards moved to a new home in Eaubonne, near Paris, where Ernst painted numerous murals. The same year his works were exhibited at Salon des Indépendants.
In September 1939, the outbreak of WW2 caused Ernst to be interned as an “undesirable foreigner” in Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, along with fellow surrealist, Hans Bellmer, who had recently emigrated to Paris. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard and other friends, including the journalist Varian Fry, he was released a few weeks later. Soon after the Nazi occupation of France, he was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo, but managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim and Fry. He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, and she suffered a major mental breakdown. Ernst and Peggy 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 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet P. 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.
Ernst died on 1 April 1976 in Paris He was interred at Père Lachaise cemetery. Here’s hoping that due to success with his art, that Max Ernst enough money during his lifetime to make it a comfortable life!
- Landscape with Wheatgerm (1936)
- Above: Anti-Pope (1914)
- Forest and Sun (1926) oil on canvas
- “It’s a Highway to Heaven” (1956)
“Is It Art?”