Modern Art Monday Presents: Max Ernst, Napoleon in the Wilderness

Max Ernst Napoleon in the Wilderness
Photo By Gail

Max Ernst (born in Germany on April 2, 1891) was a prolific artist and a primary pioneer of both Dada and Surrealism. Seriously, his life and career are so mind-blowing they almost take too long to talk about. In Ernst’s painting Napoleon in the Wilderness (1941), a semi-nude female figure (representing his mistress at the time, Leonora Carrington) holds a strange, whimsical trumpet while almost encased inside one of several organic rock and coral formations amide a decaying fantasy landscape. Like many of Ernst’s rather eerie landscapes, Napoleon in the Wilderness is loaded with symbolism including the artist’s own sense of loss and grief, and the promise of decay and renewal. It was around the time of this painting that Ernst, who was a bit of a Ladies Man (to put it politely) abandoned Carrington to marry American socialite and art patron, Peggy Guggenheim (known for having an uncle who lent their surname to a number of large Art Museums).

Napoleon in the Wilderness is part of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art, where it resides on the 4th floor. For anyone interested in learning more about the wildly fascinating life and career of Max Ernst, I recommend the excellent documentary, Max Ernst, which is available through Netflix.

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