Max Ernst is one of the brightest representatives of surrealism in the 20th century. He was born in a middle-class Catholic family on 2 April 1891 (Max Ernst Biography par.1). He was the third of the nine children. His father, Philipp, took several jobs to meet his personal interests and the needs of the family and became the main source of inspiration for Max.
Being inspired by painting and sketching, Max chose the University of Bonn to study art history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and even psychiatry (Max Ernst Biography par.1). In two years, Max joined the group of artists led by August Macke and decided to become an artist. His work and education were interrupted two times because of wars. At the same time, the wars influenced his art position and created the opportunities to visit different countries and gain a kind of surrealistic maturity.
There are many discussions about the worth and effects of surrealism. Some people admire its techniques and the possibilities to discover the world, and some people believe that “its ideas were caricatured and dismissed in the worst straw-man fashion” (Warlick xvi). Still, despite the controversies, people realize that surrealism is one of most influential artistic movements where artists could channel the unconscious as one of the means to unlock the power of the imagination. Surrealism imagery was the key in the majority of Ernst’s works such as “Ubu Imperator”, “The Triumph of Surrealism”, and “City with Animals”.
Ernst’s works are attractive due to the possibility to observe different human problems using the methods offered by Sigmund Freud. To investigate a mental state of a personality through art is what attracts the attention to Ernst’s works. His personal traumas and problems became the main subjects of his paintings. For example, his fascination with birds, as an example of his alter ego called Loplop, was explained by the event from his past. When he was young, he lost his beloved bird. As soon as he discovered the dead bird, his father informed that Ernst’s sister was born. He believed it was his bird incarnated in his little sister. “The bird acquired a mystical significance for him, it became the incarnation of the forces of life and death” (Brodskaia 77).
“City with Animals” is one of his early projects performed with oil on burlap in 1919. The techniques used in this painting are as follows: a collage of different forms with the help of which one particular image is offered and a grattage that was frequently used by Ernst in his projects. The artist introduced several images on one painting in front of the city.
In this painting, there are a number of symbols and psychological ideas that the artist wanted to share. On the one hand, each animal could represent a type of a person with their own skills and trait characteristics. On the other hand, the same picture may be interpreted as the inability to divide nature, people, and the technological progress (such as the development of cities). People could try to hide their natures in cities, but they could never hide or neglect the fact that their true faces could be identified using the power of a bird that could be observed behind and never forgotten by the artist as a symbol of a human alter ego.
Brodskaia, Nathalia. Surrealism. New York: Parkstone International, 2012. Print.
Max Ernst Biography n.d.
Warlick, Marjorie, Elizabeth. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013. Print.