Monday, March 18, 2013

Robing of the Bride by Max Ernst

       Max Ernst was born April 2nd, 1891 in Bruhl, Germany. He is considered a major pioneer in the movement of Surrealism, an offshoot of the Dada movement. His childhood and four years of service in World War I were major contributors to many of his works. For this post, I will focus on one of his postwar works, Robing of the Bride, which he painted in 1940.

Max Ernst, Robing of the Bride, oil on wood, 96 * 130 cm. 1940.

        My instructor told my class what Surrealism's claim is: "Nothing we see is real. All that is real is invisible." It means that many Surrealist works often feature highly abstracted objects that are open to interpretation at best. This is likely the most realistic interpretation that I can give Robing of the Bride: The work features four vaguely human figures, each mixed with the characteristics of an animal without losing their human appearance. From left to right, we see a green heron with the legs of a human (no gender clearly assigned) wielding a broken but still sharpened spear, a woman with a mask on her chest whose head is covered by a headdress that is part of what seems to be a thickly down-covered chick (if the chick isn't the woman's head), another woman behind her with a pale purple pallor and a peacock's tail feathers for hair, and finally a little girl standing to the side who appears to be crying. She is pregnant, has two sets of breasts, male genitalia, and the legs of a frog. Behind all of this is a painting displaying the downy-haired chick and its body(?).
        Our instructor showed us two other works made by Ernst that also had featured avian forms.

Max Ernst, Surrealism and Painting, oil on canvas, 195 * 233 cm. 1942. The arms and legs in this work bring to mind the long necks of the bird family Anatidae. The family includes ducks, geese, and swans.

© 2006 Max Ernst / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Max Ernst, Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale, oil on wood with painted elements and frame, 69.8, 57.1, 11.4 cm. 1924. The nightingale in question is that small speck above the fence on the left. Truly threatening.

       Our instructor told us a story about a certain bird that Ernst kept as a pet when he was a child. The eventual death of this bird had a profound impact on Ernst, and was likely the first death he experienced. Coupled with the stress that he no doubt faced during his service in World War I, it is easy to see why he would choose birds as a subject for some of his works; a loss of childhood innocence coupled with the brutality of war.

       For a biography on the life of Max Ernst, visit:

       For more information on Surrealism, visit:

       Even when drawing in Surrealism, it pays to know basic facts of your inspiration. For more information on the avian family Anatidae, visit


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