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 2017.


Born 1891
Died 1976
Nationalities German

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

  • The term 'Avant-garde' refers to cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation.
  • 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.

  • Or Entartete Kunst. Term coined in the 1930s by the Nazis in Germany to ridicule modern art that didn't fit with Hitler's vision. Exhibitions of such works confiscated from German museums were staged and German artists branded with the term were banned from exhibiting their work.

  • 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.

  • A literary and artistic movement founded by the poet André Breton in 1924. Many of the associated artists, such as Max Ernst and Jean Arp, had previously been involved with Dadaism. The movement sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. Cultural hierarchies were challenged by the combination of diverse elements in collages and sculptural assemblages. The movement is also notable for the collaborations between artists and writers evident in the Surrealists' many publications.

  • The combination of two or more photographs (or pieces of them) to form a single image.

  • 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.


Exhibition finished
Surreal Encounters | Collecting the Marvellous
  • 4 June 2016 to 11 September 2016
Modern One
Surrealism and the Marvellous
Modern Two