Max Ernst

German / American / French (1891 - 1976)
Max Ernst Max Ernst montrant à une jeune fille la tête de son père [Max Ernst Showing a Young Girl the Head of his Father] 1926 or 1927 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018


Born 1891
Died 1976
Nationalities German
Birth place Brühl
Death place Paris

German-French painter Ernst was born near Cologne in Germany. After studying philosophy at university he turned his attention to art, and became the leader of the Cologne Dada group in 1919. He moved to Paris in 1922 to work with the Surrealists, adapting the techniques of collage and photomontage for use by the group. He worked in a range of media throughout his artistic career, producing work that was irregular, experimental and highly imaginative. The Gallery has an excellent collection of his work, including eleven paintings and collages as well as drawings, prints and illustrated books.

Glossary terms

  • A painting, drawing or writing process that aims to suppress rational thought, allowing the subconscious to take control. This spontaneous approach is associated with Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

  • The term refers to cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation, and is used in the context of modern and particularly twentieth-century art. From the French for ‘vanguard’ or ‘advance guard’ it dates back to the Middle Ages and was strictly a military term referring to those on the front-line, closest to conflict.

  • A radical artistic and literary movement that was a reaction against the cultural climate that supported the First World War. The Dadaists took an anti-establishment attitude, questioning art's status and favouring performance and collage over traditional art techniques. Many Dadaists went on to become involved with Surrealism.

  • The term Degenerate Art ('Entarte Kunst' in German), was coined in the 1930s by the Nazis to ridicule modern art that did not fit with Hitler’s vision'. Confiscated by the German government, exhibitions of 'Degenerate' art took place in cities including Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. In addition to this ridicule, the Nazi's banned artists branded with the term from exhibiting or holding teaching posts.

  • A technique in which paper or canvas is placed over a grainy surface and rubbed with a crayon or charcoal. This was often used by Surrealist artists to create chance effects. From the French word ‘frotter’, meaning ‘to rub’.

  • A painting technique by which forms and textures are scraped into the wet surface of the paint. From the French, meaning to scrape or scratch.

  • The combination of two or more photographs (or pieces of them) to form a single image. The technique came to prominence as a Dadaist form of political protest during the First World War and was later adopted by Surrealist and Pop artists.

  • Oil paint is a mixture of pigment particles suspended in a drying oil. When exposed to air, it slowly dries, forming a tough, coloured film. The slow drying property of the paint is advantageous to artists as it allows them to work up a painting gradually, making corrections as they go. Oil paint can also be thinned and blended with each other to create subtle variations of colour, light and shadow.

  • A literary and artistic movement that sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. It is now regarded as one of the most radical movements of the twentieth century.


Surreal Encounters | Collecting the Marvellous
Modern One
Surrealism and the Marvellous
Modern Two
Cut and Paste | 400 Years of Collage
Modern Two