Max Ernst
Year, Birthplace 1891, Germany
Year, Place of death 1976, France
After completing his secondary education, with no idea of his future direction, Max Ernst began to study philosophy at the University of Bonn in 1909. He painted, developed a friendship with August Macke and became interested in the art of the mentally ill. He progressed from fauvism to cubism and, in 1913, took part in an exhibition in Berlin organised by Macke, Wassily Kandinsky and Der Sturm magazine. He met Hans Arp in 1914. He made it through the First World War, even exhibiting at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin in 1916. At the end of the war, he settled with his wife Luise Straus in Cologne. His apartment became the headquarters of the dadaists in that city. Together with Johannes Theodor Baargeld, he received Arp, Sophie Taeuber, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Éluard, and organised a Dada exhibition in 1919 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein. He developed links with various dadaist groups throughout Europe, discovered Giorgio de Chirico, created his first collages, experimented with supports and various different media. In 1921 André Breton invited him to exhibit collages in Paris at the Au Sans Pareil bookshop. Breton also wrote the preface to the catalogue. The press was outraged by the creations of the German ‘impostor’. The opening of the exhibition brought the Parisian dadaists together. André Breton went to meet him in Cologne. At the end of 1922, Ernst decided to move to Paris. Despite being helped by Éluard, life was tough. With the exhibition of four now famous paintings (Célèbes, Oedipe Roi, Au rendez-vous des amis, À l’intérieur de la vue [Celebes, Oedipus Rex, A Friends’ Reunion, Inside the Sight] at the Salon des indépendants [Independents Salon] in 1923, he was recognised at the first surrealist painter. In 1924, the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle bought one of his paintings (confiscated in 1936 by the Nazis, who considered it ‘degenerate’). His observation of a worn floorboard, in 1925, led to his invention of the technique of frottage, with its affinity to the automatic practices of surrealist writers. His drawings were collected in Histoire naturelle, published in 1926 with a preface by Arp, and he then developed this process in paintings by scratching the surface (in series of forests, birds, hordes and chimeras). An exhibition at the Galerie Van Leerer was a great success. His collaboration the same year with Joan Miró on the design of sets for Sergei Diaghelev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet led to his first conflict with the surrealists. In 1929-1930 he returned to collage and produced the book La femme 100 têtes [The Hundred Headless Woman], a graphic novel of 150 images, followed in 1933 by Une Semaine de Bonte ou les Sept Éléments capitaux [A Week of Kindness or The Seven Deadly Elements]). In 1931 Julien Lévy first showed his work in New York. He participated in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at MoMA in 1936. In 1937 he met Leonora Carrington and went to live with her in Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. The following year Ernst refused to comply with Breton’s demand to exclude Éluard, leading to his second conflict with the group. At the beginning of the Second World War he was held at a prison camp at Largentière, followed by one at Milles, as a result of his German nationality. An incredible and terrifying period of evasion and concealment then began, during which he escaped from the Germans by train. In 1941, he managed to leave for the United States. He enjoyed a certain renown and met up with artists in exile, such as Breton, Roberto Matta, Yves Tanguy and André Masson, among others. He married Peggy Guggenheim in 1942, though the marriage only lasted a year. In 1943 he met Dorothea Tanning, also a painter, and decided to leave New York to live in Sedona, Arizona, where he built a house that he filled with sculptures. Ernst returned to Paris in 1950 for a major exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin, for which the preface was written by Joë Bousquet. He returned definitively to Paris in 1953. Soon after, he settled with Dorothea Tanning in Huismes, in Touraine. In 1963, they moved to the town of Seillans, in the Var. In 1954, he received the Gran Premio per la Pittura at the Venice Biennale, while Arp received the sculpture prize and Miró the graphic art prize. The award led to his third conflict with the surrealists and his exclusion from the group. Retrospective followed retrospective over the next 20 years, from Berne in 1956 to Paris in 1959, MoMA in New York in 1961, Cologne and the Tate in London in 1962, Zurich in 1963, Venice in 1966, Stockholm and Amsterdam in 1969 and the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1975, shortly before his death. Throughout his life, Ernst remained experimental in his approach. AC