*2 April 1891 in Brühl, Germany
+1 April 1976 in Paris, France
Max Ernst is one of the most important German surrealist painters of the 20th century. Born in 1891 in the Rhineland, he attended the humanistic high school in Brühl as a boy. Already at that time he drew with passion. The Abitur is followed by studies in the humanities in Bonn, Ernst has a wide range of interests and attends lectures in philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, Romance studies, German studies and also art history. Giving him a deep insight into the art scene of the last centuries. This knowledge of art history influences his approach to art. The theoretical study is his only training as an artist. Ernst never received any practical training; as an autodidact without academic training as a painter, he became a painter, graphic artist and sculptor. After his military service, he founded the Dada group in Cologne in 1919 together with Hans Arp and Johannes Baargeld. Three years later, in 1922, he goes to Paris and becomes part of the Surrealist movement around the French poet André Breton. He manages to escape the Second World War, exiling himself to the U.S. together with Peggy Guggenheim.
Ernst’s artistic work was strongly influenced by the First World War. In his art he processes his traumatic experiences and his hatred of the senseless war. Influenced by coincidence, the arbitrary and the surreal, in his art Ernst creates mystical, sometimes seemingly droll artworks. He is known for bizarre creatures, surreal landscapes and strange animals – especially birds appear in various forms again and again. The bird takes a special role in his life, in his Dada time, he adopts an alter ego, a bird named Loplop, a figure that he repeatedly thematized in different variations.
Max Ernst painted his works not only traditionally with brush and oil paint on a canvas. He experimented repeatedly with different techniques. For example, he playes with the technique of Grattage, in which layers of paint applied on top of each other are scraped off to create new textures. From 1937 onwards, he worked with Décalcomanie. Décalcomanie is a technique of scraping off paint, whereby paint is applied to one support layer, covered by a second support layer, and then amorphous forms are created when the two layers are pulled apart. For his graphics he also resorts to frottage, in which the surface structure of a material or an object, for example a coin, is used to transfer its pattern by rubbing it with pencil or crayon. Collage has been an important part of his artistic work from the beginning. As independent works but also integrated into his prints. He also experimented in the field of printmaking, Ernst used etching, lithography, screen printing, frottage and collage. From 1919 onward Ernst produced his first prints and over the years he accumulated an extensive graphic oeuvre: Graphic cycles, individual graphics and illustrated books.
Max Ernst spent the last years of his life in France, where he died on April 1, 1976.