Celebrating Max Ernst

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German-born artist who came to fame with the Dada and Surrealist movements. But Ernst had his own particular vision that never could be comfortably confined within the tenets or anti-tenets of any artistic school. One of his passions was the creation of what he called “collage novels.” For these, Ernst would create a spare and challenging fantasy text, with generally no more than a line per page. The remainder of the page was given over to haunting collages that expanded the words of the text to the realm of dream imagery.

His wife Dorothea Tanner, herself a gifted poet as well as the English-language translator of Ernst’s collage novels, described the process by which Ernst illustrated his texts: “Each one of these collages uses cuttings often from the most banal of the prephotography illustrated penny novels, and from popular tomes about nature, science, exoticism.”

(Very much the way See Double authors create their collages in the present day.)

In A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930), Ernst recounts the dream of a girl who pursues a religious vocation that transforms into an erotic and spiritual exploration of the sacred. Ernst was an iconoclast who meant his book to shock. But for those readers who will grant dreams their wayward ways, there is fascinating fun to be had. Here are three sample pages:

Lawrence Sutin