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.
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