Max Ernst was an artist of the twentieth century whose paintings incorporated ideas such as Surrealism, Dadaism, and his own ideas based on experiences and historical events. As an artist, he focused on paintings, sculptures, and poetry. His paintings are particularly interesting because many involve his creations, mythology, and current events at the time. Three paintings I am mostly interested in are The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter, L'Ange du Foyer, or The Fireside Angel, and Die Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius.
Painted in 1926, The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter was a controversial piece painted by Max Ernst depicting The Virgin Mary turning over the baby Jesus and slapping him. The first thing I noticed about the painting was that Mary is wearing a bright, crimson red dress with the bottom half a dark, almost blue green hue where the child is being beaten. The Virgin Mary is usually depicted wearing light blue, or white garments which could represent purity. However, the Crimson red of Ernst’s Mary is the most vibrant color in the piece, and it sends out a sense of violence. Red is also a color that associates with anger, passion, blood, and sin, all qualities one would not associate with The Virgin Mary. Another noticeable aspect of the piece is the turned over infant Jesus. Around the infant’s buttocks is a more pinkish hue where one can presume is where the child is being hit. The child also has blonde, curly hair, and a fair skin complexion. The infant is also lying on the part of Mary’s dress which is blue, and his hand disappears in the folds between her legs of the dress. Although the title indicates that Jesus was an infant in the painting, the size of him in the actually piece is much larger in comparison to an infant. Both Mary and the infant have halos, however, the infant’s has fallen off. In the background, three faces are seen in the window, watching the chastising of Jesus. Their facial expressions seem to show lack of interest, in fact, one of the witnesses is facing the opposite direction of the action taken place. Their faces match the duller tones of the walls and background of the scene. Overall, it is a striking painting that raises many questions.
L'Ange du Foyer is another intriguing piece by Max Ernst. At first glance, the image looks like a dancing bird like creature. The background depicts a flat plain with a mountain range for in the distance. Like the first picture, the background has a duller tone than the creature in the foreground. The beast is painted with many vibrant colors, the head being a white with tints of yellows and browns, arms and part of body a red – orange, one leg orange, the other a dark blue, one arm forest green, the other a burnt orange, the veil between its legs an orange cream color, and the strange appendage which resembles a smaller beast a forest green. The creature is made up of several parts; a closer look reveals it comprising of different human and animal parts, much like the mythical beast, the Chimera. The head of the creature resembles that of a bird with long, jagged teeth. Its eyes, pose, and facial expression seem to reveal glee. Its right foot, left to the viewer, has a hoof as a foot, while the other resembles a shoe. The painting is definitely abstract; features indicating this is the shapes, colors, and position of the images. Ernst’s brush strokes are very loose, and it seems to create a wave – like image on the beast, as if its garments were flowing in the wind. The creature doesn’t seem to take on any familiar shape or form, and seems to flow with the wind. The creature attached to the main one has no familiar shape as well. It seems to be an amorphous figure, with a hand that has seven fingers. The shape is almost like fire, no real shape, or even resembling water, or wind.
The final piece of Ernst’s pieces I looked at was Die Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius. There is a great deal of activity going on in the painting. The foreground has many demonic looking creatures, and the background has some as well, only a few have a womanish figure and features. The overall color scheme is darker than the previous two paintings observed before. Many blues, purples, and dark reds are used in the painting. A pool of water is seen in the background, and one can presume that it is part of a possible ocean. One intriguing feature of the painting which is surprisingly easy to miss is the man dressed in a red – orange robe lying horizontally being tormented by several small creatures. The man’s face has a long beard and short hair, resembling perhaps a Greek hero. The man’s facial expression seems to reveal agony, while many faces of the monsters reveal hysterical laughter and amusement. Some of the figures resemble real animals, such as the turtle type, several birds, and even a horseshoe crab. Others look like they had come from a hellish place, looking more demonic than natural. The agonizing man is surrounded by two walls of these creatures. In the background, just above the crystal clear water, stands a womanish figure entangled in serpent like roots, or maybe another type of monster. Another image difficult to see at first is the woman on the far right standing on a type of pedestal, arms outstretched while watching the man being tormented by the tiny creatures. Like the one before, this painting has a realistic background, geography wise, with well placed water and mountainous images in the distance, yet it incorporates these almost abstract images, as if its straight from a fantasy, or myth.
What does Max Ernst want the viewer to see in his paintings? Each of these paintings raises many questions about his life, his experiences, and his ideas when painting each individual piece. Diving deeper into his life maybe one way of figuring each piece of work out.