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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

Not on display

This large work was painted while Ernst was working with the surrealist group in Paris, and seems to highlight his oedipal conflicts with his father - the Surrealists were fascinated with psychology and the theories of Sigmund Freud. The 'young girl' may be the artist's dead sister, in which case an incestuous triangle of father, son and daughter is implied. Ernst used a technique that he invented, called 'grattage' to create the forest. This involves the painted canvas being laid over a rough wooden surface and scraped to produce a rich, grainy texture. The large ring in the background represents the sun.

Glossary Open


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.


Refers to the Oedipus complex, a psychoanalytic concept in which a child desires their parent of the opposite sex. The term is derived from the ancient Greek story of Oedipus who unknowingly killed his father and married his widowed mother.


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.

Grattage, Oedipal , Surrealism


  • Acc. No. GMA 3972
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 114.30 x 146.80 cm (framed: 166.00 x 133.50 x 8.30 cm)
  • Credit Accepted in lieu of tax and allocated to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 1998