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Max Ernst Artist Biography

Max Ernst was a founder of the Dada group and a highly influential surrealist artist. His work embraces his unconscious, tackling both his desires and demons. Max Ernst favoured subject matter derived from his childhood fantasies. Although, he had no formal training, his talent was clear from an early age. Max Ernst was born in Cologne, Germany to a deeply religious family. In 1911, he attended Bonn University, Germany where he studied philosophy and psychology. It was whilst at university that he met August Macke and a number of the Blue Rider group - an association of painters who shared an interest in abstracted forms and prismatic colors.

In 1920, alongside Hans Arp and the social activist Alfred Grunwald, he set up the Cologne Dada group - an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century. Although short-lived, it was a crucial time in his development as an artist. It was at an exhibition entitled 'Beyond Painting' at the Au Sans Pareil gallery that he achieved his first notable success with his collages. His series of peinture-poesie (picture-poems) set him apart from his contemporaries as he experimented with various word-image combinations. Then in 1925, he developed 'frottage' (rubbing) in which he positioned paper over wooden floorboards and rubbed a pencil over the top. Using a mixture of textures, he produced works of a dreamlike quality with mysterious figures and features. Moving on from this, and with the help of Joan Miro, he pioneered 'grattage' (scrapping) in which he applied the ‘frottage’ technique to oil painting. In 1934, he worked in sculpture for the first time. After a period with the Surrealists, he left them in 1938 due to André Breton's desire to ostracise Ernst's friend Paul Eluard.

In September 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Max Ernst was interned as an enemy alien but thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard and other friends, he was released a few weeks later and managed to escape Paris and, after a stop in Spain, arrived in New York in 1941 and stay there until 1952. During this time, he collaborated with André Breton and Marcel Duchamp on the periodical VVV. This was a focal point for the European Surrealists who had escaped to America because of the war.

Returning to France in 1953, he set up a studio in Paris and eventually took up French citizenship. He did not succeed financially until 1954 when he won the Venice Biennale. After this, based in Paris with his second wife Dorothea Tanning (he was also married briefly to Peggy Guggenheim), his work finally received the recognition it deserved. He died in 1976.

Despite his strange styles, Marx Ernst gained quite a reputation that earned him some followers throughout his life. He even helped shape the trend of American art during the mid-century, thanks to his brilliant and extraordinary ideas that were unlike those of other artists during his time.

"Ernst came to describe the additions he made to his collages as changing them into images which 'transformed into revealing dreams my most secret desires'." Ian Turpin from 'Max Ernst' (Phaidon, 1979)

More art prints from Max Ernst

Histoire Naurelle by Max Ernst
Berggruin 1972 By Max Ernst
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