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Masterpieces from the World's Museums at Hermitage
Max Ernst, Carmagnole of Love, 1926. Oil on canvas.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA.-The State Hermitage Museum presents Masterpieces from the World’s Museums in the Hermitage. Three paintings by Max Ernst from the Art Collection of Northern Rhine-Westphalia (Düsseldorf), on view through February 19, 2006. The paintings Carmagnole of Love (1926), After Us - Motherhood (1927), and Landscape with Sprouting Grain (1936) are on loan from the Art Collection of Northern Rhine-Westphalia in Dusseldorf. . This is the second exhibition of Max Ernst in the Hermitage. In 1995 the Museum showed the artist’s printed graphics from the collection of Lufthansa Airlines: a series of engravings, well-known collages and books.

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German painter, sculptor and graphic artist. . He was one of the leading representatives of the Surrealist school of art. Ernst was born in Bruhl, Germany on 2 April 1891. During the years 1908-1914, he studied philosophy, psychology and the history of art in the University of Bonn, where he was influenced by the well-known Expressionist August Makke and decided to dedicate his life to painting.

In 1919 Ernst participated in the creation of the Dadaist group in Cologne: these were adherents of a movement which arose three years earlier in Zurich among artists, writers and critics who were embittered by the war and sought to overthrow established social, moral and artistic values. Max Ernst’s works appeared in various publications as photo-montages and collages, making use of engravings from scientific opuses and old catalogues, advertising brochures and posters, pages from popular novels, etc. By removing a subject from its context and transferring it to absurd surroundings, he created a Surrealist image.

In 1921 the artist moved to Paris. During this period he made works which now are considered to be models of Early Surrealism, among them his programmatic painting The Elephant Célèlebes (1921). Since Surrealism sought to convey the reality of the sub-conscious by means of automatism, Max Ernst invented what is called frottage, a neologism from the French word frotter (to rub together or scrape): this is a drawing made from rubbings on paper placed above some kind of textured object. The artist also used other automatic techniques. For example, he sprinkled paint on a canvas or placed two freshly painted paintings face to face so as to get unpredictable painting effects on both canvases. In 1941 Max Ernst moved to the USA, but in 1953 he returned to Paris, where the Museum of Modern Art organized a retrospective show of his work in 1959. There were also large one-man shows in New York: in the Museum of Modern Art (1961), in the Jewish Museum (1966) and in the Solomon Guggenheim Museum (1975). Later exhibitions were staged in London and Cologne. In 1948 Max Ernst’s book Beyond Painting appeared. The artist died in Paris in 1976.

Max Ernst’s artistic legacy is huge, but one may say that his most important contributions were made in his works from the period 1920-1940’s in which he conveyed the atmosphere of the collapse of the world. It is precisely this aspect of Max Ernst’s work that is reflected in the paintings from Dusseldorf that are displayed now in the Hermitage.

Carmagnole of Love (1926) was a rather unusual work for the artist, insofar as Max Ernst rarely was so direct in his approach to an erotic theme. The painting depicts a couple engaged in the frenzied movement of a French Revolutionary dance, the carmagnole. The powerful and vulgar male figure looms threateningly over a naked woman. The carmagnole is usually associated with revolution, violence and death, however here the term is softened by the word "love." The name of Ernst’s painting is not descriptive; it complements rather than reveals the content of the image.

In 1927 Ernst painted the large canvas After Us - Motherhood which depicts several strange creatures resembling birds on a dark background. One of the anthropomorphic birds embraces and presses a fledgling to her breast. This is an understandable hint at the traditional depiction of the Madonna and Child. Ernst had no pious religious beliefs and often created anticlerical works. The substitution of birds for people is rather common in his work. Ernst did not strive to portray men in a matter-of-fact way. Instead , he painted anthropomorphic creatures or machines, with iron constructions that are part of human bodies.

Landscape with Sprouting Grain was painted later, in 1936. It is difficult to find among the fantastic objects of Landscape... anything corresponding directly to the title, but undoubtedly the painting illustrates the movement of forms and life forces.

The curator of the exhibition, M.O. Dedinkin, is a senior researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Art. The State Hermitage Publishing House has issued an illustrated booklet for the exhibition; M.O. Dedinkin is the author of the text.

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November 28, 2005

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