The Artist Birthday Series

Max Ernst

Today’s Artist Birthday: Max Ernst

Max Ernst (2 April 1891 – 1 April 1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was a primary pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

Max Ernst with rocking horse, 1938
Max Ernst with rocking horse, 1938

Max Ernst was born in Brühl, near Cologne, the third of nine children of a middle-class Catholic family. His father Philipp was a teacher of the deaf and an amateur painter, a devout Christian and a strict disciplinarian. He inspired in Max a penchant for defying authority, while his interest in painting and sketching in nature influenced Max 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 that year, producing sketches in the garden of the Brühl castle, and portraits of his sister and himself.

Max Ernst in Bruhler Schlosspark, 1909
Max Ernst in Bruhler Schlosspark, 1909

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.

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