Bev Kangas

Max Ernst

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was born in Brühl, in Western Germany. He was an artist and a co-founder of the Dada movement, as well as a major contributor to Surrealism. Ernst enrolled in Bonn University in Germany to study philosophy, but soon dropped out to work on his art. During WWI, he served in field artillery in the German army. As a result of being in the military, Ernst said in his autobiography “Max Ernst died the 1st of August, 1914.” Being a soldier, however, gave him ideas for more artwork that he could do later. In 1918 he married Luise Straus, and had a son (Jimmy Ernst, who became a surrealist artist). Along with Jean Arp (a fellow artist) and Alfred Grünwald (a social activist), Ernst formed the Cologne, Germany Dada group.


Dada can be “defined” as an anti-art movement, in which its members created new forms of artwork. While other art was meant to have some sort of deep meaning or representation of thoughts, emotions, etc., Dada artwork was meant to be meaningless, fun, or simply art for art's sake. The artists in this movement referred to themselves as “non-artists,” wanting to break free from the more restrictive and repressive guidelines of European culture, mainly Christian doctrine. “Regular” art, made from paints, oils, pastels, and other traditional mediums, was too defined, and Dada non-artists were simply sick of the rigidity of traditional art. As a solution and a way to break free from the standards of artwork, they made new forms of art to create and enjoy.

After meeting with Paul Klee in 1919, Ernst made paintings, block prints and collages, and began to experiment with mixed media art. In 1925, he invented a graphic art technique called frottage, in which a pencil or other drawing tool is rubbed across paper or canvas on a textured surface, such as wood or cloth, to capture the pattern. He was inspired to create this after seeing the interesting texture on floor boards and wanting to capture it. He also created a technique called grattage which is similar to frottage. Instead of only a texture being rubbed over, an object with a unique texture is rubbed over, such as a leaf or a coin. When frottage is used, only the texture can be seen. With grottage, the outline of the object can be seen as well, such as the shape of the leaf as well as the veins.

Examples of Ernst's Dada Works

Junk Assemblages & Collages

Fruit of a Long Experience (1919) - Painted wood and metal relief

Junk assemblages are pieces of work created by putting “junk,” or found objects, together as a single piece, which may or may not be related to each other.

The Fall of an Angel/La Chute d'un Ange - Collage and oil on paper

Collages are works of art made with different types of paper pasted on top of a flat surface to make a single image or a statement. Ernst's most common mediums to work with included textbooks, educational placards, and mail-order catalogs.

Later Life

In 1938, he was imprisoned in an internment camp, and released a few weeks later with the help of some friends (among them were Paul Éluard, another founder of surrealism, and Varian Fry, a journalist). A few years later he was arrested again by the Gestapo, but managed to escape and fled to America with the help of his wife. Once in New York, he helped to inspire abstract expressionism (along with Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall). In 1948, he wrote the treatise Beyond Painting, and as a result achieved financial success. In 1953 he moved to a small town in France and continued to make his artwork. On April 1, 1976, Ernst died in Paris.

Enjoying Ernst's Work Today

In his birthplace of Brühl there is a museum dedicated to him and his work. His artwork can also be seen at various museums in America, including the Art institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Cultural Significance

It is important to understand the feeling behind the creation of, and works made through, Dadaism because it helps to show the state of artists at that time period. While there were a lot of tough times going on, mainly the World Wars, and when there were art forms with stricter guidelines, Dada artists found a way to escape their stress. In any time period, art is an expression of how people feel or wish they feel, and artists portray visually a more direct way of seeing into the minds and emotions of people. The creation of Dadaism shows that although there were hardships, these artists found a way to be freed into a world where they could just do whatever they want with their mediums, as they could not with the state of their country, including making new forms of art for others to practice and break free from the mold with.

Dada - The anti-art movement
Collage - Art made from collection of papers on top of each other
Frottage - Rubbing of texture on paper
Grattage - Rubbing of object impression on paper
Junk-Assemblagen - Junk assemblages


ger/101/2010/fall/bev_kangas.txt · Last modified: 2010/11/01 08:28 (external edit)
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