Max Ernst: life and work

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6 November 2015

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Max Ernst biography


            Max Ernst was a German born painter. He was born in Brühl in 1891, near Cologne and was the third-born of nine children middle-class Catholic family. Philipp was his father and he also was an amateur painter and a teacher of the deaf. More so, he was a devout Christian who was a strict disciplinarian. His interest in sketching and painting greatly inspired Ernst in taking up painting. At the University of Bonn, Ernst began studying philosophy in 1909, although he became highly preoccupied with self taught painting. In 1919, he produced his first collages famously known as Fiat, a mode which was a lithographs portfolio. Also in the same year, Max together with Johannes Theodor Baargeld who was a social activist and other colleges founded the Cologne Dada group. In 1919 to 1920, Max and Johannes published some magazines like Die Schmmade and Der Strom and also organized Dada exhibitions. In this period also he made paintings with irrational imagery combinations. His first one- man exhibition was made in Paris at the Galerie Au San Pareil in 1921. In 1922, he relocated to Paris. Here, his friendship with Eluard and Breton led to his active participation in the surrealist movement. As he constantly experimented, in 1925 Max came up with a graphic technique known as the Frottage which used pencil rubbings as a source of images. This technique provided him with a means of bringing hallucinatory visions. In this year he also brought up a technique known as Grattage, where paint is scraped across canvas so as to show up imprints of objects placed beneath and used it in his very famous paintings; Dove and Forest. In the year, 1934, he made his first sculpture, went to USA in 1941 as a refugee and helped in the inspiration of Abstract expressionism. In 1948 he wrote the treatise, beyond painting which helped him regain his financial success. From 1950 he lived in France where he publiced a catalogue of his work. In 1966 he made a glass chess and named it “Immortel”. In 1954, he was awarded the major painting prize. Max Ernst died in Paris in the year 1976.


Werner Spies & Sabine Rewald (eds.), Max Ernst: A Retrospective. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art / New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. Catalogue of exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: Max Ernst: a retrospective

John Russell. Max Ernst: life and work (New York, H.N. Abrams, 1967)

Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.204

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