Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

Europe After the Rain II: An Abstract, Apocalyptic Landscape

Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain II conjures up a surreal, apocalyptic landscape that seems to reflect his own personal horror at the wars through which he lived and fought. In this article, Singulart takes a closer look at Max Ernst’s life and examines Europe After the Rain II as well as his experimental techniques. 

What is happening in Europe After the Rain II? 

Max Ernst, Europe after the Rain II, 1941

Europe After the Rain II depicts an abstract, apocalyptic landscape, reminiscent of classical paintings of ruins. In the center of these ruins stands a creature, half-man and half-bird, wielding a spear at a green woman, whose back is turned to him and the viewer. This surreal, multicolored landscape seems to represent the destruction of a mythical or futuristic war with its strange crumbling structures hiding an array of figures and details. However certain details suggest that Europe After the Rain II also has an autobiographical thread running through it, such as the presence of the bird/human figure which can be found in many of Ernst’s works as his alter-ego. It can also be considered within the historical context of Europe in the early twentieth century, as a testament to the devastation of warfare that continued to ravage Europe at the time that Ernst painted Europe After the Rain II. Despite the ambiguity of this painting, it is easy to feel Ernst’s disgust at the consequences of war in this composition. 

Max Ernst’s experimental painting techniques

In Europe After the Rain II Ernst employs many of his techniques developed at the start of his career to enhance the textures and surreal quality of the landscape. One such technique used here was named “grattage” and was an extension of his original “frottage” technique. Whereas “frottage” consisted of laying paper over a textured surface and rubbing with pencil to transfer the texture to the paper, “grattage” involved layering materials such as wood, wire, rope or glass underneath a primed canvas. Multiple layers of paint were applied and then scraped away whilst pressing into the objects beneath to reveal their textures in the paint. This technique contributes to the strange, other-worldly textures and shapes found in the landscape of Europe After the Rain II. 

Who was Max Ernst? 

Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a key figure of the Dada and Surrealist movements in the early 20th century. Born in Bruhl, near Cologne, he studied philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, art history and literature at the University of Bonn. During his studies he visited asylums and developed a fascination with the art created by the patients. It was at this that he also began to paint, sketching from nature and painting portraits of his sister and self-portraits. In 1912, he experienced the works of Picasso, Van Gogh and Gauguin for the first time at an exhibition in Cologne which had a huge influence on him. He began to exhibit his work with the Das Junge Rheinland group the same year, with his paintings of this time characterized by grotesque imagery mixed with Cubist and Expressionist motifs. In 1914, Ernst met the artist Hans Arp in Cologne and they developed a long lasting and collaborative friendship. 

Max Ernst in 1968

Just after Ernst finished his studies, World War I broke out and he was conscripted and served on the Western and Eastern Fronts. In 1918, he returned to Cologne and married Luise Straus, an art history student he had met before the war. The following year, along with the artist Paul Klee, he studied the paintings of Giorgio de Chrico in Munich, which would have a profound effect on the development of Ernst’s style and technique, most specifically on his experiments with collage. Along with activist Johannes Theodor Baargeld and other avant-garde figures, Ernst founded the Dada group in Cologne in the same year. In 1921 he met Paul Eluard, with whom he formed a life-long friendship and who bought many of Ernst’s works. 

In 1922, having failed to obtain the necessary paperwork, Ernst moved to France illegally, leaving his wife and son behind in Germany, and lived with Eluard and his wife in Paris. 

During this time Ernst developed an alter-ego character in his painting, inspired by his fascination with birds which he named “Loplop”. In 1927 he married Marie-Berthe Aurenche and it is thought their relationship inspired the erotic subject matter that was prevalent in his work at the time. In 1938 he met the American heiress and patron Peggy Guggenheim, who bought many of Ernst’s works and exhibited them in London. 

After the outbreak of World War II, Ernst was sent to a camp for “undesirable foreigners” in Aix-en-Provence along with fellow German artist Hans Bellmer, however he was released a few weeks later thanks to the intervention and testimonies of friends Paul Eluard and others. He was later arrested by the Gestapo during the German Occupation of France but escaped with the help of Peggy Guggenheim and fled to America. Guggenheim and Ernst were married from 1942 to 1946. His arrival in New York coincided with that of many other European artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall, and his work was an inspiration on Abstract Expressionism. Soon after the end of his marriage to Peggy Guggenheim, he married the artist Dorothea Tanning in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in California and the couple moved to Sedona, Arizona where they lived and worked until 1953, inspired by the desert landscapes. In 1954, Ernst won the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. He died in Paris in 1976, having finally obtained both French and American citizenship and was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery.

See artworks by similar artists in Singulart’s Inspired by Max Ernst collection.

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