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Max Ernst
(1891-1976)

- Born on April 2, 1891, Max Ernst was from Brühl, Germany, a town near Cologne. Ernst was a philosophy student at the University of Bonn, when he made the decision to drop philosophy and concentrate on painting. While he never had any formal training, Ernst considered art his life, to the point that when his art was interrupted to serve with the German army during World War I, he referred to the day his military service began as the day he died.

Following the end of the First World War, Ernst joined with fellow artists Jean Arp and Alfred Grünwald in forming a Dada group in Cologne, Germany. In 1918, he entered into marriage with art historian Luise Straus. They had one son together, but the relationship was unstable and short lived. Soon after that marriage, Ernst became friends with poet Paul Eluard and his wife Gala, and the three enjoyed an open ménage a trois relationship. Ernst moved with the couple to Paris in 1921, leaving behind Straus and their young son, Jimmy.

In 1925, just a few years after entering into the artists’ community of Montparnasse, he invented the technique for which he is famous called frottage. The technique involves using pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images. His discovery of this technique was followed a year later with the invention of the grattage technique, developed by Ernst and fellow surrealist Joan Miro. It was around this time that Ernst also began using a technique he called decalcomania, which involved pressing paint between two surfaces.

Ernst had a fascination with birds, which developed when he was a child. He developed an alter ego character known as Loplop, who was a bird, and claimed that he felt Loplop was an extension of himself and a childhood confusion between birds and humans resulting from the death of his pet bird at the same time the birth of his younger sister occurred. The character of Loplop appears in some of Ernst’s collages.

It is said that the inspiration for some of Ernst’s erotic works, such as The Kiss, was the woman he married in 1927, Marie-Berthe Aurenche. This marriage was also destined to fail.

In 1934, Ernst began sculpting, and soon after caught the eye of Peggy Guggenheim. Guggenheim collected several pieces of Ernst’s work to display in her London museum. Ernst was arrested twice during World War II, including once by the Gestapo, and thanks to Guggenheim’s intercession, he was able to escape with her to the United States. He left behind Leonora Carrington, with whom he had an intimate affair, and his leaving caused Carrington to suffer a mental breakdown and be hospitalized.

Ernst married Peggy Guggenheim in 1942, but that marriage also failed. Just 4 years after his marriage to Guggenheim, Ernst married Dorothea Tanning in a double ceremony with American artist Man Ray and his betrothed. The couple moved to Sedona, Arizona, where Ernst penned the book Beyond Painting. The book finally helped Ernst to achieve financial success as a result of the wide spread publicity.

In 1953, Ernst and Tanning returned to France, where Ernst continued painting and sculpting. He died one day short of his birthday in 1974, and is interred in Paris.

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