Max Ernst

Date/place of birth

April 2, 1891, Brühl, Brühl

Day/place of death

April 1, 1976, Paris, France

Max Ernst - Mer agitée, soleil, nuage et maître Corbeau avec son fils
Max Ernst - Mer agitée, soleil, nuage et maître Corbeau avec son fils

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Max Ernst biography

Max Ernst was a Dadaist and a Surrealist in one person, and as sculptor, painter and graphic artist, was one of the most important German artists of the 20th century. His mystical surrealist pictorial combinations, fantastical landscapes and grotesque figures remain a riddle today.

Max Ernst – Beginnings as an autodidact; experiments with Expressionism

Max Ernst was born on 2 April 1891 the third of nine children in Rhenish Brühl. His father Philipp Ernst, a teacher of the death and mute, was an enthusiastic hobby painter and taught his son the basics of drawing and painting. The young Max learnt to appreciate nature as a rich source of inspiration on numerous excursions, following his father’s instructions to make his reproductions of nature as realistic as possible. Despite his passion for painting, which he continued to pursue as a hobby, Max Ernst started studies in classical philology, psychology, philosophy and – at least! – art history at the university in Bonn. There he made friends with the Expressionist August Macke, who introduced him to a new style of painting as well as to the artists Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay. Encouraged by his friends, Ernst dedicated himself autodidactly to Expressionism and took part in the exhibition ‘Rheinische Expressionisten’ (Rhenish Expressionists) in the Salon Cohen in Bonn, as well as the ‘Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon’ (First German Autumn Salon) in Herwarth Walden’s Berlin gallery Der Sturm.

Max Ernst united Dadaism and Surrealism in his art

Max Ernst formed a lifelong friendship with Hans Arp, five years his elder; together with Johannes Theodor Baargeld, they founded the Cologne Dada Group in 1919. Ernst had finally found his long-yearned creative means of expression in the pictorial language of Dadaism and Surrealism. He had a son, Jimmy Ernst - who would later become known as a surrealist painter in the USA - with the art historian Luise Straus; after his separation from Straus, who was murdered as a Jew in Auschwitz in 1944, Ernst became one of the driving forces of Surrealism in Paris together with André Breton and Paul Eluard, and worked closely with its famous representatives Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the climate in Paris became increasingly raw for the German artist: Max Ernst was arrested several times and had to endure highly embarrassing interrogations, but with the help of the art patron Peggy Guggenheim, he managed to escape to the USA. There he was able to freely evolve as an artist, creating a comprehensive body of sculptural work and participating in numerous exhibitions. He did not return to Europe until 1953. 

Philosopher, painter, sculptor, illustrator, and film actor 

Max Ernst valued the philosophers Stirner, Nietzsche, Novalis and Hegel, and felt a deep connection to birds, which appeared regularly in his work in various forms; for a time, he even took on the alter ego of a bird, ‘Schnabelmax’. He spent his remaining years with his fourth wife, the surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning, in France, receiving French citizenship in 1958. His late work comprised numerous graphics, including collage novels, painting books and illustrations to various works by Lewis Carroll. As an artist, Ernst was tremendously versatile and processed an almost unmanageable flood of influences and thoughts. He was also connected to the medium of film and acted in various productions – he himself was dedicated a film by the respected director Peter Schamoni: Max Ernst - Entdeckungsfahren ins Unbewusste.

Max Ernst died in Paris on 1 April 1976.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Max Ernst Prices

Max ErnstMer agitée, soleil, nuage et maître Corbeau avec son fils€620.000
Max ErnstFlaneurs (Les enfants de la Huchette)€312.500
Max ErnstNocturne I (Lueurs dans la nuit)€156.000
Max ErnstLe Gulf Stream€137.500
Max ErnstOphelia (auch: Luftspiegelung) - Ophelia (also: Mirage)€96.000
Max ErnstLa vase de Lyon€95.200

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