Max Ernst, Naissance d´une galaxie, 1969 © Max Ernst/BUS 2008. Beyeler Collection, Basel

Max Ernst in Europe: Coming Home and Late Recognition

In 1950, two retrospective exhibitions of Max Ernst’s art were shown in Paris. But the critics and the public were not receptive to his work, with its varied styles. Moreover, the fashion at the time was informal art and existentialism.

Max Ernst moved back to Europe in 1953 and settled in France. At first, he lived in Paris, then in Huismes, Touraine, and finally in Seillans. His works from this period include Le printemps à Paris (Spring in Paris) and Vater Rhein (Father Rhine). The latter is an imaginary vision of a river god, combining cyclical nature, memories and legends, landscape and portrait. Ernst was awarded the grand prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in 1954. This had two consequences: his final exclusion from the surrealist group, but also international recognition that led to numerous solo exhibitions.

Graphic art gradually formed a large part of his production. The portfolio Maximiliana ou l’exercise illégal de l’astronomie (Maximiliana, or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy), dating from 1964, is a tribute to the forgotten 19th century German astronomer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel who calculated the return of comets and discovered a large number of stars and the planet Maximiliana which the title refers to.

Max Ernst, Le grand génie, 1976 © Max Ernst/BUS 2008. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk. Photo: Brøndum & Co./ Poul Buchard

Max Ernst also intentionally returned to, extended and modified earlier themes, and added yet another facet to his œuvre. Using exact, straight or curved contours, he reduced his works into simple shapes and characterisations of his figures.

In his works from the late 1950s and onwards, Max Ernst focused on nature and the forces of life. The cosmic imagery approaches that which is most distant, the infinity of space. Max Ernst presents the seemingly simple yet complex galaxies, possible worlds and parallel worlds that lie beyond our wildest imagination.



Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst return to Europe for good and move to Paris. Works in the Impasse Ronsin (XVth Arrondissement) next to Constantin Brancusi’s studio. Travels in the fall to Heidelberg and Cologne. Vater Rhein, Le printemps à Paris.


Max Ernst receives the Grand Prize for painting at the 27th Venice Biennale, Hans Arp for sculpture, and Joan Miró for printmaking. Max Ernst is again excluded from the Surrealist group by André Breton.


Max Ernst moves with Dorothea Tanning to Huismes near Chinon in the Vienne River valley. Rock’n’ Ruin.


Max Ernst is made a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Retrospective at the Kunsthalle Bern. Brings back Un peu de calme from his house in Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche and reworks its. Spends the winter with Dorothea Tanning in Sedona. A Maiden, a Widow and a Wife.


Max Ernst receives the Grand Prize for Painting from the West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Les princes dorment mal.


Max Ernst becomes a French citizen. The first comprehensive monograph by Patrick Waldberg is published. 33 fillettes chassant les papillons, Les corbeaux de bonne humeur.


Large retrospective at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.


Travels through Germany with Patrick Waldberg.


Max Ernst receives the Stefan Lochner Medallion from the city of Cologne on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Designs the stage settings for Jean-Louis Barrault’s production of Judith at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, Paris. The costumes are made after designs by Dorothea Tanning. Visits the United States on the occasion of the retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition is subsequently shown in Chicago (The Art Institute) and London (Tate Gallery).


Spends the early part of the year in New York and travels to Greece in the summer. Retrospective at the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne. The exhibition is later shown at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. Ci meurent les cardinaux.


Spends the spring in Sedona. Peter Schamoni makes the film Entdeckungsfahrten ins Unbewußte about Max Ernst. Death of Tristan Tzara.


Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning settle in Seillans in the South of France. Awarded the Lichtwark Prize by the city of Hamburg. Made an honorary professor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Publication of the book Maximiliana ou l’exercise illégal de l’astronomei, Le ciel épouse la terre.


Peter Schamoni makes the film Mein Vagabundieren—meine Unruhe on the life of Max Ernst.


Conferred with the Officer of the Legion of Honor. Exhibitions at the Jewish Museum in New York and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Max Ernst rejects the freedom of the city of Brühl. John Russell’s monograph Max Ernst: Life and Work is published.


The construction of a new house in Seillans is started according to the plans made by Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. Max Ernst designs the stage settings of La Turangalîla at the Opéra National de Paris. Dedication of the fountain at Amboise. Le silence à travers les âges, Octobre.


Visits Stuttgart and Tübingen. Retrospective at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Naissance d’une galaxie, Tangled Lightning.


Exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, then at the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart. Lewis Carrolls Wunderhorn is published with lithographs by Max Ernst. Gallimard publishes Écritures (writings from 1919 to 1969).


Touring exhibition Das Innere Gesicht with works by Max Ernst from the collection of Jean and Dominique de Menil through France, Germany, and the United States. Travels to Düsseldorf in May for the dedication of the Habakuk statue and the fountain at Brühl with a subsequent ceremony celebrating his 80th birthday.


Conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of Bonn. Max Ernst illustrates and translates texts by Heinrich von Kleist, Clemens Brentano, and Achim von Arnim into French.


Travels to Houston in February for the exhibition Inside the Sight.


Max Ernst suffers a stroke.


Travels to New York on the occasion on the large retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum which is subsequently shown in an enlarged form at the Grand Palais in Paris. The first two volumes of the catalogue raisonné (Spies/Leppien, Das graphische Werk, and Spies/Metken, Werke 1906–1925) are published in Cologne.


Max Ernst dies in Paris on April 1 in the night before his 85th birthday and was buried at Père-Lachaise Cemetery.

More about this exhibition