The first half of the 20th century was a time not only of great artistic innovation in Europe, but also desperate personal upheaval as war and political extremism swept the continent. The life and work of pre-eminent Surrealist Max Ernst has come to epitomise the plight of the European émigré artist in an age of exile and tyranny. Psychologically scarred by his experiences in the First World War, his art was condemned as degenerate by the Nazis, and Hitler’s war forced him to flee into exile. It was a series of events that would produce one of the most original and powerful bodies of work in modern art.
Born into the bourgeoisie of Cologne, Ernst studied philosophy, history of art and psychiatry at the University of Bonn. He received no formal artistic training and yet, by 1913, his masterful, self-taught, Expressionist-Cubist paintings were being exhibited at the seminal Post-Impressionist Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon show in Berlin. When war broke out in 1914, he served in the German Army. His experiences would traumatise him for life and mark a turning point in his art; when peace fell, he rejected the bourgeois conventions of German art and threw himself into the burgeoning revolution of Dada and Surrealism, producing superb Surrealist collages and paintings such as Celebes (1921).
In 1922 Ernst moved to Paris and, by 1926, had become one of the Surrealists’ leading lights, following his collaboration with Joan Miró on the design for Diaghilev’s production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (1926). Over the next two decades, with works such as La Femme 100 Têtes (1929) and the Angel of Hearth and Home (1937), he became internationally renowned, exhibiting in New York, London and Paris.
After his affair with Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington ended in her breakdown, and Europe fell to Hitler, Ernst fled France for New York. There, he married gallery owner and art patron Peggy Guggenheim. During the war years and in exile, Ernst produced some of the most important artworks of the 20th century, such as Robing of the Bride (1939-41) and Europe after the Rain (1940-1942).
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