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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Aquis Submersus, essentially meaning submerged in water, was completed by Max Ernst in 1919 and displays part of his early development and general shift towards Surrealism.

The angles are interesting in this piece. The figure diving into the pool is angled directly vertically, which would have been impossible to achieve if diving in from the side of the pool. A lifeless figure stands on the side, left without any real detail or features. A few small touches of paint have added some fish into the near section of the water, and there is also the reflection of the moon in the center, repeated again in the sky in the far background. The general sky is dark and there is a clock face added to the moon. Surrealist indeed! Various rectangular blocks are then dotted around the scene to represent additional homes in this crowded cityscape. Dark shadows are angled from the bottom left to the top right, suggesting at the position off-canvas of the sun.

Perhaps the artist displayed the diver as attempting to escape from the rational world by jumping deep into the pool. It is believed also that the water actually represents the unconscious mind. As an artist, Max Ernst learnt to delve into his own mind from time to time in order to find inspiration for his work, making him the diver in one respect. There is always room for discussion and disagreement with the meanings and symbolism behind this artist's work, particularly because his compositions have not received as much analysis as more famous names such as Salvador Dali. That said, he is still particularly famous and many have linked elements of his oeuvre to texts from physcho-analysis.

The Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt has an excellent collection which covers a number of different art movements in great depth. There is, naturally, a strong focus on German art and you can find some key works by the likes of Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Holbein, Albrecht Durer, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. Besides this, Italian and Dutch art is also very well represented too. It remains one of the finest collections in both Frankfurt and also Germany as a whole and a fitting venue for a nation which has impressed particularly over the past two centuries, with a number of forward-thinking artists and some highly influential art movements.