German artist Max Ernst (1891-1976) was born in Brühl, near Cologne. Inspired by his father’s interest in painting and sketching nature, Ernst began to study philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry at the University of Bonn in 1909.
Increasingly preoccupied with painting, he self-taught himself influenced by Van Gogh and Macke, who he befriended in 1911. Subsequently, Ernst joined Macke’s Die Rheinischen Expressionisten group of artists.
His first exhibition was held in 1912 at Galerie Feldman, in Cologne, where a series of his works were exhibited along those from the artists who formed the Das Junge Rheinland group but his artistic production came to a sudden halt when World War I started, where he served as an artillery officer for the Western and Eastern Fronts. The conflict had a devastating effect on him, whose war trauma was enhanced by the loss of fellow friends and artists Macke and Marc, both deceased in action.
The paintings of de Chirico helped to stimulate his interest in dream-like fantastic imagery, and he founded the Cologne Dada group along with Baargeld and Arp 1919-21. Ernst also produced collages and, later, paintings with irrational combinations of imagery. His first one-man exhibition was held at the Galerie Au sans Pareil, Paris, 1921.
In 1922 he moved to Paris, where his friendship with Breton and Eluard led to an active and intense participation in the Surrealist movement. His discovery of the technique of frottage (rubbing) in 1925 provided him with a means of evoking hallucinatory visions. This new interest and field of experimentation opened the doors for collages and novels’ illustrations, including La Femme 100 Têtes, 1929 and Une Semaine de Bonté, 1934 (year in which he also made his first sculpture).
Ernst escaped from Paris to to the USA as a refugee in 1941, thanks to the help of his wife-to-be Peggy Guggenheim. The couple lived in or near New York for a brief time, until their divorce. Ernst then moved to Sedona, Arizona with his then wife, Dorothea Tanning until 1950, when he again returned to live mainly in France. He was awarded the main painting prize at the 1954 Venice Biennale and passed away in 1976.