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Ernst and Europe after the Rain II
Ernst’s Europe after the Rain (fig. 1) is a quintessential surrealistic
masterpiece painted by a recognized genius of the surrealist genre. We can
readily see that Ernst’s own biography and personal experiences are important
in how we interpret the work. So, I will begin with a historical survey of Europe
after the Rain II as inextricably combined with Ernst’s life. Ernst
sometimes offered his own interpretational ideas about Europe after the Rain
II, but these were fairly few or somewhat indirect. After discussing
historical and stylistic material leading to Ernst’s painting of Europe
after the Rain II. I will offer my own analysis of Europe after the Rain
II along with ideas suggested by Ernst and some important critics of the
Brül, Germany in 1891, Max Ernst completed gymnasium and studied philosophy and
art history at the University of Bonn. While at university, he first began
reading Freud and observing the artwork of psychiatric patients. After viewing a
1912 exhibition in Cologne of works by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Munch and Picasso he
decided to be a painter. During his first trip to Paris, Ernst met Robert
Delaunay and Guillaume Apollinaire and with the assistance of Auguste Macke he
exhibited his first works there in 1913. (2)
after the Rain II, 1940-42
canvas. 54 x 146 cm.
Atheneum, Hartford, CT.
association with Macke contributed to an interest in Expressionism, but Ernst
soon abandoned the style for Dada. His principle Dada works were collages. Ernst
adopted Dada with the German political revolt against traditional cultural
expression around him and those whom he knew. His ongoing thought drawn from
observing mental patients and his own war experiences were an even greater
World War I was beginning, Ernst was encouraged to remain in Paris by Hans Arp,
who would later be a close friend and colleague. But rather than the prospect of
being sent to a French concentration camp, Ernst decided to accept his draft
into the German Army. (4) “World War I proved to be a defining experience for
Ernst ... (who) perceived his civilization as absurd for setting off the
bloodbath, and once referred to the war as ‘the dirtiest of tricks.’” (5)
Ernst’s war service “in the trenches” obviously affected him deeply. He
became incredibly more alienated and pessimistic in his outlook from this point
war, Ernst returned to his artist friends with whom he collaborated in
exhibiting various Dada works inspired by the eclipse of traditional European
civilization around them. Ernst and his colleagues were less concerned with
creating new styles as they felt the need to incorporate their experiences into
art which reflected their sense of nihilism. Soon, however, even the absurdities
of Dada seemed exhausted as a source of expression, and the beginnings of
is characterized by the representation of abstract images, often dream-like,
drawn from the human unconscious or subconscious. Usually these are connected
with inner human thoughts and are then translated into works representing this
thought abstractly or with varied illusionistic images diverging from reality in
arrangement of subjects, portrayal of subjects, and unusual juxtaposition of
often disparate objects. Generally visual images are shown in distorted and
ambiguous ways. (6)
influenced by other surrealists who in turn drew upon his work in a period where
many surrealist artists came into contact with one another. Following World War
I and into the World War II period, Ernst associated with many other surrealists
such as André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Arp, and Salvador Dali. They
developed their style collectively trying to make arresting artistic statements.
than trying to communicate a sort of automatist inner reality in works like many
surrealists, Ernst departed from his peers in that he often tried to codify and
reconcile emotions, intellectual ideas, and intuition more directly in his
paintings. He was thoroughly surreal in his use of inner content, but he was
much more self reflective and critical of his own works and how they
corresponded to inner experience. Most of the other surrealists paid less
scrutiny to what was produced and focused almost exclusively on what they
experienced beforehand as subjective, spontaneous perceptions of reality.(8)
also unique in experimenting with varied methods of visual representation. He
made use of collage and illustrations in early works. Some of his earliest
surrealist works used frottage, a type of tracing of a textured substance
such as wood grain and incorporating it into paintings in varied ways. Many of
Ernst’s works, including Europe
after the Rain II were paintings. In this and other works he used a
technique called decalcomania which involved applying paper or other
material to paintings while still wet and then pulling the covering material
away to distort the painting. Oscar Dominguez and other surrealists used the
technique. Ernst adapted the technique to oil paintings using glass to cover the
painting before removing it leaving highly altered images. Europe after the
Rain II is one of the most notable but not the only one of these works.
Where other surrealists were content to leave the works as they were after
removing the paper or glass leaving the product untouched as a more direct inner
manifestation, and Ernst added further painted details to the product. (9)
Ernst was also known for trying various media which even involved
sculpture in his later years.
the year Hitler rose to power, Ernst created Europe after the Rain I
(fig. 2). It shows a map of Europe with distorted edges to represent the
national conflicts and shifting boundaries and allegiances. Already, we see that
Ernst was not only inspired by his subconscious, but also engaging in criticism
of European politics and perhaps the broader culture as well.
Ernst’s work was deemed political treason and his works were banned in Germany. He was wanted by the Gestapo, and so he took refuge in France where he could work and freely work with other artists. When World War II began, Ernst was sent to a French concentration camp for aliens. He escaped and was returned to these camps a number of times. He began painting Europe after the Rain II in 1940 and was released when his marriage to a younger French woman was discovered. In his life, Ernst was married and divorced several times and had innumerable romantic exploits. (10)
after the Rain I, 1933
gypsum on plywood. 101 x 149 cm.
release, Ernst went to Air-Bel, a French artists’ conclave during the war
years. There Varian Fry, an American, was responsible for helping many European
artists including Ernst escape from the Nazis. With the additional help of
wealthy heiress Peggy Guggenheim, Ernst did escape to the United States. (11)
His flight was fraught with intrigue involving the intercession of his son
in America to help from a Spanish border guard. He only completed Europe
after the Rain II once in America. After marrying and divorcing Guggenheim,
Ernst continued working in the American Southwest, where the very geography he
encountered influenced the evolution and perception of his work. Eventually,
after political matters were drastically changed, Ernst eventually returned to
Europe. Ernst moved to Paris in 1953 and continued to work until his death in
already seen how Ernst’s life and his understandable reaction to war-torn
Europe in the early twentieth century influenced his internal perceptions as
well as artistic expression. Now, we should focus a bit more closely upon the
technical elements of Europe after the Rain II, undoubtedly
representative of much of Ernst’s life and work.
painting, we are confronted with a landscape view of a ravaged place. Evident
material destruction is combined with organic growth and life throughout the
foreground. Linear elements are intertwined with curves and twists in such a way
that we wonder what are features of the landscape, features of destruction and
desolation, and features indicating surviving life. Many features with which we
are confronted are ambiguous as to whether they represent human and animal
features such as faces and bodies, geological elements as mountains and glyphs,
or either surviving overrun wild vegetation or its remains. No doubt the
Ernst’s masterful use of decalcomania is responsible for our confusion.
"Here the decalcomania technique has produced a spongy, rotting landscape
redolent of decay."(13) In the wake of massive destruction, we seem
to see so many elements which could be one thing, another, or perhaps both. For
example, we may see faces and human features, their mere appearance in the
horrible scene, or perhaps the conflation Ernst wished to express purposefully
in confusion and Ernst even added new perceptions of the work over time.
the picture plane is a tall structure in cooler gray, greenish, and blue hues
fading into black. Could this be the bomb whose explosion has caused the
"European" destruction with only its twisted metal exploded remains
left, or is this object part of destroyed man-made building? In either case, it
seems to represent the dramatic intrusion of human technology either as
attempted civilized construction or remains of intentional cultural yet quite
uncivilized destructiveness. In my observation it appears the remains of an
this structure we see the back of a woman whose lower body seems geologically
constrained in the scene with the appearance of rock below her back (fig.3).
However, she is quite predominant in that we can distinguish her dress, hat,
back, and face. Her hair seems to move in the wind. She gazes away from us
toward the middle and background. The distant mountains and occupation of much
negative space with rather ordinary blue sky and white clouds suggests large
dimensions and that there is a great mass of water or land unseen by us but seen
by the woman in the middle ground to which she gazes. The woman could be highly
cultured humanity, old Europe itself, with her proper hat and what appears
formal dress still intact looking away from the destruction around her but also
unmercifully trapped in her place by the rocky appearance of her lower body.
after the Rain II, detail.
her is another large lifelike figure, a helmeted bird. Birds often appear in
Ernst’s work. Here the bird-man is attached by a strand of something to what
appears to be the remains of a structure. His legs however are clearly free. He
could be the somewhat emasculated persona of war and aggression as he turns
toward the woman. He too, however is trapped in the ruins. Many other large and
small figures are seen in this frenzied mass of animal, vegetable, and mineral
confusion. On either side of the gray structure we see both bright neutral
colors as well as warmer colors suggesting the life of its loss.
techniques Ernst employed here can be seen in many works from this period,
however, "[a]s an indictment of war it works much more effectively than the
earlier Angel of Hearth and Home" (14)(fig. 4). Concurring and
expanding on criticism of Europe after the Rain II, Gimferrer sees
eroticism in the bird and woman figures which seem out of place here unlike
other paintings he compares with this one. (15) The bird figure seems relatively
harmless and only some what engaged with the woman who is, unlike the women of
other paintings of this period not shown with flesh tones and sumptuous
adornment as with the women in The Robing of the Bride (fig. 5). Rather,
she seems in shades of black and in her stance of looking resolutely away to
mourn and denounce her surroundings.
of Hearth and Home,
canvas. 53 x 73 cm.
Moderner Kunst, Munich, Germany.
Robing of the Bride,
canvas. 130 x 96 cm.
Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.
While we have mentioned Ernst’s engagement with his production, contrasted to an extent with other surrealists, even he admits the multiple interpretations of Europe after the Rain II. In Arizona, long after painting this work, he would first glimpse the rocky mountainous rock outcroppings of the American southwest and exclaimed that what he saw here for the first time was actually what he had earlier painted (fig. 6) in the rocky protrusions of Europe after the Rain II. (16) I find this amazing in that Ernst left Europe after the Rain II finished, as I assume he did with other surrealist creations, yet still incorporated further lived experience with his art and its interpretation.
after the Rain II, detail.
(1) The title of this
painting is often confused with Europe after the Rain I produced in
1933. Sometimes Europe after the Rain II (1940-1942) is simply
referred to as Europe after the Rain. Other variations in usage
exist. I will include the title with the appropriate Roman numeral for
(2) Sidra Stich, Anxious
Visions: Surrealist Art (Abbeville Press: New York, 1990), 240.
(3) Ian Turpin, Ernst
(London: Phaidon Press, 1993).
(5) Ernst, [n. a.],
Great Modern Masters series, José Maria Faerna, General Ed., Trans. by Alberto
Curotto (New York: Abrams, 1997), 7.
(6) We can say somewhat
simply that Ernst tended away from "organic Surrealism in which figures or
other objects may be suggested but are rarely explicit. . . ." toward what
Dali would embody so popularly: "Magic Realism—that is, precisely
delineated, recognizable objects, distorted and transformed, but nevertheless
presented with a ruthless realism that throws their newly acquired fantasy into
shocking relief." H. H. Arnason, Rev. Author, Peter Kalb, 5th
ed., History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography,
(Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003), 258.
(7) Ruth Brandon, Surreal
Lives: The Surrealists 1917-1945 (New York: Grove Press, 1999).
(9) Stuart Nolan,
"The Enduring Significance of the Work of Max Ernst" World
Socialist Web Site, October 1, 1998, Internet at http://www.wsws.org/arts/1998/oct1998/erns-o01.shtml,
accessed February 25, 2005.
(10) Sheila Isenberg, A
Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry (New York: Random House, 2001).
(11) Ibid.; Even though
Ernst’s relationships with women seem exploitive, I have found no instance in
which they complained. As Brandon says, "Women played a very particular
place in the Surrealist world-view. . . .[They] attended surrealist gatherings
mostly as companions. They were there to facilitate the lives of the (male)
artists. . . Living with a rich woman was one way around the problem of work. .
." Yet, "more importantly, woman was an icon, the incarnation of . . .
mad love, the nearest man could approach to the wonderful—that ultimate
goal." (pp. 383-384). We may justly doubt however that Ernst’s Europe
after the Rain II could have been preserved and even created without much
dependence on the women with whom he was romantically involved.
(13) Ibid., 20.
(15) Pere Gimferrer, Max
Ernst (New York: Rizzoli, 1983).
(16) Max Ernst,
film by Peter Schamoni, R. M. Arts Portrait of an Artist series, Film München,
1991. Audiotape commentary by Ernst himself.
Arnason, H. H., rev.
author Peter Kalb, 5th ed., History of Modern Art: Painting,
Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall,
Ruth Brandon, Surreal
Lives: The Surrealists 1917-1945. New York. Grove Press, 1999.
[n. a.], Great Modern Masters series, José Maria Faerna, general ed., trans. by
Alberto Curotto, New York, Abrams, 1997.
Gimferrer, Pere, Max
Ernst, New York, Rizzoli, 1983.
Isenberg, Sheila, A
Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry, New York. Random House, 2001.
Nolan, Stuart, "The
Enduring Significance of the Work of Max Ernst," World Socialist Web Site,
Oct. 1, 1998, Internet, http://www.wsws.org/arts/1998/oct1998/erns-o01.shtml,
accessed Feb. 25, 2005.
Schamoni, Peter, film, Max
Ernst, R. M. Arts Portrait of an Artist series, Film München, 1991.
Stich, Sidra, Anxious
Visions: Surrealist Art, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.
Turpin, Ian, Ernst,
London, Phaidon Press, 1993.
Troy Doyle is a distance education Art
History major at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, who resides in
Gainesville, Florida. He holds
degrees in music and education, and is also finishing his thesis in theology.