Max Ernst and Alchemy : A Magician in Search of Myth (Surrealist
M. E. Warlick
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Surrealist artist Max Ernst defined collage as the "alchemy of the visual image." Students of his work have often dismissed this comment as simply a metaphor for the transformative power of using found images in a new context. Taking a wholly different perspective on Ernst and alchemy, however, M. E. Warlick persuasively demonstrates that the artist had a profound and abiding interest in alchemical philosophy and often used alchemical symbolism in works created throughout his career.
A revival of interest in alchemy swept the artistic, psychoanalytic, historical, and scientific circles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Warlick sets Ernst's work squarely within this movement. Looking at both his art (many of the works she discusses are reproduced in the book) and his writings, she reveals how thoroughly alchemical philosophy and symbolism pervade his early Dadaist experiments, his foundational work in surrealism, and his many collages and paintings of women and landscapes, whose images exemplify the alchemical fusing of opposites. This pioneering research adds an essential key to understanding the multilayered complexity of Ernst's works, as it affirms his standing as one of Germany's most significant artists of the twentieth century.
symbolizing the Primal Matter from which they arose as well as the ﬁre applied to achieve their union. They hold masonic instruments of a compass and square, ringed by a semicircle of stars symbolizing the seven ancient planets. The sun and the moon are placed close to their personiﬁcations, and the remaining stars contain the astrological symbols for Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn. The dragon rests on a circle, symbolizing alchemy’s cyclic unity, as does the number 1. The triangle and
symbols in a caption on the back, including the sun, the moon, and a sexually united couple formed by fused ﬂoating legs joined vertically in the center of the canvas.37 Below this couple, small circular shapes rotate along an orbital path around a central circle representing the earth. The earth is hidden behind a woman’s hand, lending it “the role of a sex organ,” while a small whistle/pipe is suspended at the bottom. 72 Fig. 4.4. Max Ernst, Men Shall Know Nothing of This (Les Hommes n’en
medieval coif may be Flamel with his bag of gold and his wife, Pérenelle. Around the central portal, large salamander-like dragons, recalling the dragon of St. Marcel, curl their tails around lively sculptural oak leaves with three-part lobes (Fig. 4.20).90 These animated sculptures are similar to those found at the four edges of 96 the occultation of sur realism Ernst’s Inside the Sight: The Egg (Fig. 4.21). On the bottom left is a dragon leafcreature with an opened mouth turned upward. At
power of the feminine archetype and the ideal erotic woman of his dreams. This mythic image often merged with the obvious and obscured portraits of the women he loved, each one associated with certain motifs that clustered in the art he made during the years they were together. Women were active within the surrealist movement from its earliest days, although their contributions, particularly literary ones, have often been overlooked.5 Several women, such as Simone Kahn Breton, Renée Gauthier, and
trouble with Hitler’s brownshirted thugs. Twice a year, he visited Lou, Max, and Marie-Berthe in Paris, and each year his return trip to Germany was increasingly perilous. After long delays spent negotiating for a travel permit, Jimmy left Paris in 1938 and sailed to New York, with Max and Lou sending him off with a tearful farewell.56 Over the next few years, Max’s own safety in France grew less and less secure. His companion during this period was the beautiful young Englishwoman Leonora