Max Ernst

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Max Ernst had his first contact with the sensible world, when he came out of the egg which his mother had laid in an eagle's nest and which the bird had brooded for seven years.
Art has nothing to do with taste, art is not there to be 'tasted'.

Max Ernst (2 April 18911 April 1976) was a German painter and sculptor who worked in the styles of Dadaism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. He frequently writes about himself in the third person.

Quotes of Max Ernst[edit]

1910 - 1935[edit]

  • A series of powers are at work within the great stream of Expressionism who have no outward similarity to one another but a common direction of thrust, namely the intention to give expression to things of the psyche [Seelisches] through form alone.
    • In a newspaper review of 'Rhenish Expressionists', Bonn (1913); as quoted in Expressionism, by Norbert Wolf (2004)


  • Etna
Grave-digger
at your post for thirty years
like Jesus Christ
you seldom grant yourself...
fully content with a little exercise
exercise makes you strong
I like you
  • first couplet of his poem 'Etna', in: 'Literature', Paris, October 15, 1923; as quoted in Max Ernst sculpture, Museo d'arte contemporanea, Edizioni Charta, Milano, 1969, p. 15


  • One rainy day in Cologne on the Rhine, the catalogue of a teaching aids company caught my attention. It was illustrated with models of all kind – mathematical, geometrical, anthropological, zoological,botanical, anatomical, mineralogical, paleontological, and so forth- elements of of such a diverse nature that the absurdity of the collection confused the eye and mind, producing hallucinations and lending the objects depicted new and rapidly changing meanings. I suddenly felt my 'visionary faculties' so intensified that I began seeing the newly emerged objects against a new background. To capture it, a little paint or a few lines were enough, a horizon, a sky, a wooden floor, that sort of things. My hallucination had been fixed. Now it was a matter of interpreting the hallucination in a few words or sentences Such as: 'Above the clouds midnight passes. Above midnight glides the invisible bird of day..'
    • In: 'Biographical Notes. Tissue of truth, Tissue of Lies', 1929; as quoted in : Max Ernst. A Retrospective, Munich, Prestel, 1991, p. 290


  • A banal fever hallucination, soon obliterated and forgotten; it didn't reappear in M's memory until about thirty years later (on 10 August 1925), as he sat alone on a rainy day in a little inn by the seaside, staring at the wooden floor which had been scored by years of scrubbing, and noticed that the grain had started moving of its own accord (much like the lines on the [imitation] mahogany board of his childhood). As with the mahogany board back then, and as with visions seen between sleeping and waking, the lines formed shifting, changing images, blurred at first but then increasingly precise. Max {Ernst] decided to pursue the symbolism of this compulsory inspiration and, in order to sharpen his meditative and hallucinatory skills, he took a series of drawings from the floorboards. Letting pieces of paper drop at random on the floor, he rubbed over them with a black pencil. On careful inspection of the impressions made in this way, he was surprised by the sudden increase they produced in his visionary abilities. His curiosity was aroused. He was delighted, and began making the same type of inquiry into all sorts of materials, whatever caught his eye – leaves with their ribs, the frayed edges of sacking, the strokes of a palette knife in a 'modern' painting, thread rolling off a spool, and so forth. To quote 'Beyond Painting' These drawings, the first fruits of the frottage technique, were collected under the title 'Histoire Naturell'.
    • In: 'Biographical Notes. Tissue of truth, Tissue of Lies', 1929; as quoted in : Max Ernst. A Retrospective, Munich, Prestel, 1991, pp.283/284


  • Looking at them [the metaphysical paintings of De Chirico, c. 1919] I had the sense of rediscovering something I had always known, just as when some event already seen opens up to us a whole realm of our own dream world, one that we have failed to see or comprehend, owing to a kind of censorship.
    • In 'Notes pour un biographie', Max Ernst, 1929, pp. 30-31; as quoted in Max Ernst: a Retrospective, ed. Werner Spies & Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2005, p. 10


'The mysteries of the forest' (1934)[edit]

'The mysteries of the forest' (1934), published in 'w:Minotaure', No. 5, 1934, 'Ecritures', pp. 221, 223; as quoted in Edward Quinn. Max Ernst, Barcelona, Poligrafa, 1984. p. 182


  • What is a forest? A marvelous insect. A drawing-boardÁĉŵĦĦĦĦĦĦĦĦĦĦ do forests do? They never go to bed early. They are waiting for the tailor. What is the high season of the forests? It is the future..
  • But it is of the past, it seems to me. Perhaps.. .Man and the nightingales were in the most favourable situation for imagining: for them the forest was a perfect dream-conductor..
  • What is a dream? You ask too much of me: it is a woman cutting down a tree. What are forests for? For making the matches one gives children to play with. Is the fire in the forest, then? The fire is in the forest. What do plants feed on? On mystery. What day is it today? Shit..
  • Are there still forests over there? They are, apparently, wild and impenetrable, black and russet, extravagant, secular, full of ant-hills, diametrical, negligent, ferocious, fervent and kindly, without yesterdays or tomorrows. From one island to another, above the volcanoes, they play cards with inmatched packs. Naked, they are decked only in their majesty and their mystery.

1935 - 1950[edit]

  • The 2nd of April (1891) at 9:45 a.m. Max Ernst had his first contact with the sensible world, when he came out of the egg which his mother had laid in an eagle's nest and which the bird had brooded for seven years.
    • In 'Some Data on the Youth of M. E., As Told by Himself', in the w:View (April 1942); also quoted in Max Ernst and Alchemy (2001) by M. E. Warlick, p. 10


  • Max Ernst died the 1st of August 1914. He resuscitated the 11th of November 1918 as a young man aspiring to become a magician and to find the myth of his time.
    • In 'Some Data on the Youth of M. E., As Told by Himself' in the w:View (April 1942); also quoted in Max Ernst and Alchemy (2001) by M. E. Warlick, p. 17
    • his quote refers to his serving-period on the Western and then on the Eastern front during World War 1. (1914-1918)


  • I saw a shady forest and therein a crowd of nightingales. The nightingales as to their breast were rough and hairy, and as to their feet some were like calves, some like panthers, and some like wolves, and they had beast's claws instead of toes.
    • text of his poem 'First Memorable Conversation with the Chimera', in the journal 'w:VVV', no. 1. New York, June 1942, p. 17


  • A picture that I painted after the defeat of the Republicans in Spain [in 1936, Max Ernst was a resolute opponent of the Spanish dictator General Franco, who was supported by Germany's Nazi regime] is 'The Fireside Angel'. This is, of course, an ironic title for a rampaging beast that destroys and annihilates anything that gets in its way. This was my idea at the time of what would probably happen in the world, and I was right.
    • As quoted: 'Room 10, Max Ernst', the exhibition text of FONDATION BEYELER 2 - MAX ERNST, 2013, texts: Raphaël Bouvier & Ioana Jimborean; ed. Valentina Locatelli; transl. Karen Williams
    • the quote is referring to his painting 'L'ange du foyer' / 'Le triomphe du surréalisme', 1937 ('The Fireside Angel' / The Triumph of Surrealism'); the alternative title was offered by Ernst himself in 1938, when he spontaneously opted for a different title: 'The Triumph of Surrealism'.


  • Studies in painting: Non. He learned to express himself by means of art in the same way as the child learns to talk. No teaching is needed for the one who is born an artist, and even the expression 'self-taught' is a phony, he thinks.
    • In a questionnaire, Max Ernst filled out in 1948, the U.S; as quoted in Max Ernst: a Retrospective, ed. Werner Spies & Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2005, p. 7


  • A painter may know what he doesn't want. But woe be to him if he desires to know what he wants. A painter is lost if he finds himself. Max Ernst considers his sole virtue to be that he has managed not to find himself.
    • In Beyond Painting, Max Ernst, 1948, p.14; as quoted in Max Ernst: a Retrospective, ed. Werner Spies & Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2005, p. 6


1950 - 1976[edit]

  • Woman's nakedness is wiser than the teachings of the philosophers. [the title of his essay]
    • In: Max Ernst, Gonthier-Seghers, Paris, 1959; as quoted in Max Ernst sculpture, Museo d'arte contemporanea. Edizioni Charta, Milano, 1996, p. 37


  • Two artists can suggest two different subject matters and two completely different pictures by using the same spot. Every picture demonstrates certain aspects from the inner life of the painter who made it. For this reason, the orthodox Tachist is wary of letting himself be influenced by Leonardo's famous wall.. .I grant the painter the right to speak, to laugh, to take a stand and to draw upon all his hallucinatory faculties. But I absolutely refuse to live like a Tachist.
    • 'Max Ernst im Gesprach mit Eduard Roditi' (1967), as quoted in Max Ernst, Écritures Paris, 1970, p. 416


  • A painter may know what he does not want.
But woe betide him if he wants to know
what he does want! A painter is lost if he finds himself.
The fact that he has succeeded in not finding
himself is regarded by Max Ernst as his only
'achievement'.
  • Max Ernst in 'Max Ernst', exhibition catalogue, Galerie Stangl, Munich, 1967, U.S., pp.6-7, as quoted in Edward Quinn, Max Ernst. 1984, Poligrafa, Barcelona. p. 12


'Ecritures' (1970)[edit]

'Écritures' pp. 221, 223., as quoted in Max Ernst, Edward Quinn, Poligrafa, Barcelona, 1984,
  • Eternity
Hide yourself
eternity
beloved eternity
  • p.290


  • The painter
The painter allows you not to know
what a face is
Escaped from the museum of man,
he has chosen to e mortal!
Mortal like
the kiss of the Mona Lisa
  • p. 352


  • Laymanship
Don't confuse
the fairy's kiss
with
the priest's spanking
  • p. 360


  • Sanctuary

All windows fall silent The earth closes its eyes

  • p. 366


after 1976; posthumous[edit]

  • Art has nothing to do with taste, art is not there to be 'tasted'. Yet a certain mayor believes that art exists to be 'judged', and the most modern art to be 'judged from a business point of view'. That such an original thought could emerge from a mayor's brain! What the mayor wants is exactly what the critics of the large and small dailies actually do. They set out to judge art. That is a very pleasant occupation, because no matter how wrong a judgment may be, you never have to revise it. The art judges talk about 'ability' and complain that the 'younger generation' has lost this ability. Sometimes their complaints are even seriously intended. But, gentlemen, do you really know what that is — ability? No, you don't.
    • As quoted in Max Ernst: Sculptures (1996) by Max Ernst, Jürgen Pech, and Ida Gianelli, p. 11


  • Mixed feelings when he [Max Ernst frequently writes about himself in the third person] enters the forest for the first time: delight and oppression. And what the Romantics spoke of as 'being at one with Nature'. Wonderful joy in breathing freely in an open space, but also anxiety at being encircled by hostile trees. Outside and inside at the same time, free and trapped.
    • In: 'Room 6, Max Ernst', the exhibition text of FONDATION BEYELER 2 - MAX ERNST, 2013, texts: Raphaël Bouvier & Ioana Jimborean; ed. Valentina Locatelli; transl. Karen Williams
    • this quote is describing an early childhood experience, in the third person


  • First contact with occult, magical and enchanting forces. One of his best friends, a very intelligent and affectionate pink cockatoo, died in the night of 5 January. It was a terrible shock for Max when he found the dead bird in the morning, at the same moment as his father told him of the birth of his sister, Loni. The boy's consternation was so great that he fainted. In his imagination, he linked the two events and made the baby responsible for extinguishing the bird's life. A series of psychological crises and depressions followed. A dangerous amalgamation of birds and human beings became firmly established in his mind and later found expression in his paintings and drawings.
    • In: 'Tissue of Truth, Tissue of Lies', Max Ernst; as quoted in 'Room 7, Max Ernst', the exhibition text of FONDATION BEYELER 2 - MAX ERNST, 2013, texts: Raphaël Bouvier & Ioana Jimborean; ed. Valentina Locatelli; transl. Karen Williams
    • the quote is referring to a childhood experience in 1906, when Max Ernst was c. 15 years old


Quotes about Max Ernst[edit]

  • Max Ernst
Devoured by the feathers and submissive
to the sea
He has let his shadow pass in the flight
of the birds of freedom ...
... His eyes are in a wall
and their face is a heavy adornment.
Another falsehood of the day,
Another night, there are no more blind men.
  • w:Paul Éluard, his poem on Max Ernst in 'Capitale de la douleur', 1926; as quoted in Edward Quinn. Max Ernst, Barcelona, Poligrafa, 1984, p.132


  • He had the ears of an oyster
and his hair danced in the foam
as the white rocks evaporated
at the passing of the flies
He had eyes as blue as olives
he had olives as black as his belly
and asked the chimneys the secret
of the smoke
that floated in the axis of his eyes
like the snow of the specters
  • w:Benjamin Péret, (1926), in 'Cahiers d'art', 1937, p. 60; as quoted in Edward Quinn. Max Ernst. Barcelona, Poligrafa, 1984, p.140


  • Reader, when you cross the threshold of Max Ernst's world abandon all hope of receiving help from the outside.. ..you will have to walk alone
    • w: Nicolas Calas in: 'w:View' 1943; as quoted in Max Ernst: a Retrospective, ed. Werner Spies & Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2005, p. 3


  • The Dada movement was an anti-movement which corresponded to a need born of the first World War.. .Max Ernst's activities in Cologne in 1917 made him the foremost representative of the Dada painters. Between 1919 and 1921 his paintings, drawings and collages depicting the world of the subconscious were already a foretaste of Surrealism.. .In fact his previous achievements had certainly influenced, to a great extent, the literary Surrealist exploration of the subconscious.
    • Marcel Duchamp in: 'Appreciations of other artists': Max Ernst (painter, sculptor author), 1945; as quoted in Catalog, Collection of the Societé Anonyme, eds. Michel Sanouillet / Elmer Peterson, London 1975, pp. 143-159


  • Max Ernst is above all an artist in the limited sense-a man who paints with taste and sensibility. He used these gifts to convey his vision-his symbolic vision-just as Blake used his poetic sensibility to convey his symbolic vision. After a century or so we have arrived at the point of accepting the genius of Blake; in the same mood we should be able to accept instantly the comparable genius of Ernst.
    • Herbert Read, (1949) 'Max Ernst', in The Meaning Of Art, London, 1949


  • [Max] Ernst continued - as he himself said - the tradition of what the German Romantics called 'inner landscapes'. Few statements encapsulate the mindset of this Surrealist artist as aptly as these words by Caspar David Friedrich, the ultimate Romantic painter: 'The painter should not just paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself. If he sees nothing in himself, however, then he should forebear to paint what he sees before him.'
    • In text: 'Room 6, Max Ernst', the exhibition text of FONDATION BEYELER 2 - MAX ERNST, 2013, texts: Raphaël Bouvier & Ioana Jimborean; ed. Valentina Locatelli; transl. Karen Williams


External links[edit]

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