Max Ernst (2 April 1891 – 1 April 1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism.Ernst was born on April 2, 1891, in Brühl, near Cologne, the third of nine children of a middle-class Catholic family. His father Philipp Ernst was a teacher of the deaf and dumb and an amateur painter. A devout Christian and a strict disciplinarian, he inspired in his son a penchant for defying authority, while his interest in painting and sketching in nature influenced Max Ernst to take up painting himself. In 1909 Ernst enrolled in the University of Bonn, studying philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry. He visited asylums and became fascinated with the art of the mentally ill patients; he also started painting this year, producing sketches in the garden of the Brühl castle and portraits of his sister and himself. In 1911 Ernst befriended August Macke and joined his Die Rheinischen Expressionisten group of artists, deciding to become an artist. In 1912 he visited the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, where works by Pablo Picasso and post-Impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin profoundly influenced his approach to art. His own work was exhibited the same year together with that of the Das Junge Rheinland group, at Galerie Feldman in Cologne, and then in several group exhibitions in 1913.
In 1914 Ernst met Hans Arp in Cologne. The two soon became friends and their relationship lasted for fifty years. After Ernst completed his studies in the summer, his life was interrupted by World War I. Ernst was drafted and served both on the Western and the Eastern front. Such was the devastating effect of the war on the artist that in his autobiography he referred to his time in the army thus: “On the first of August 1914 M[ax].E[rnst]. died. He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918.” However, for a brief period on the Western front, Ernst’s position was charting maps, which allowed him to continue painting.
In 1938, the American heiress and artistic patron Peggy Guggenheim acquired a number of Max Ernst’s works which she displayed in her new museum in London. Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim were also married to one another from 1942 to 1946. Also in 1938 he was interned in Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, along with fellow surrealist, Hans Bellmer, who had recently emigrated to Paris on the outbreak of World War II. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard and other friends, including the journalist Varian Fry, he was discharged a few weeks later. Soon after the Nazi occupation of France, he was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo, but managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Guggenheim. He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, and she suffered a major mental breakdown. Ernst and Guggenheim arrived in the United States in 1941 and were married the following year. Along with other artists and friends (Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall) who had fled from the war and lived in New York City, Ernst helped inspire the development of Abstract expressionism.
His marriage to Guggenheim did not last, and in Beverly Hills, California in October 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet P. Browner, he married Dorothea Tanning. The couple first made their home in Sedona, Arizona. In 1948 Ernst wrote the treatise Beyond Painting. As a result of the publicity, he began to achieve financial success.
In 1953 he and Tanning moved to a small town in the south of France where he continued to work. The City, and the Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais in Paris published a complete catalogue of his works. In 1966 he created a chess set made of glass which he named “Immortel”; it has been described by the poet André Verdet as “a masterpiece of bewitching magic, worthy of a Maya palace or the residence of a Pharaon”.
Ernst died on 1 April 1976 in Paris. He was interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.