At the First Clear Word Max Ernst Buy Art Prints Now
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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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At the First Clear Word was a symbolic painting by Max Ernst. It was an oil painting on canvas that was created in 1923. Today, it sits at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany. In the image, a female hand is seen reaching through a wall opening with the forefinger and the middle finger crossed.

This makes them look like a woman's legs. They are holding to a red sphere that looks more like a fruit. The red sphere is connected to a string, which is held in place by nails and tied a large stick insect that seems to be scaling the walls. The insect almost reaches to the top of the wall with the mouthparts seen on the other side. There are two identical trees, each on either side of the wall and of identical size. The sky beyond the wall is blue with no clouds or a sign of movement.

The use of a clear blue sky along with geometric patterns of the scenes and the choice of other colours and shadows that meticulously rendered reminds the viewer of the famous De Chirico's paintings. It offers a strong atmosphere of eerie stillness and silence. Besides, there is a sober feeling despite there being some eminent disaster. This is because if the ball slips from these crossed fingers the insect will be pulled down to the ground that cannot be seen in the image. This may happen at the time that the insect is finally reaching the top after a considerable journey up the wall.

Ernst has create several works that are as perplexing as this composition. He created At The First Clear Word as part of several murals that were made for Paul Eluard, who was a surrealist poet. Paul's home was about 10 kilometres from Paris. The image was named after a title of one of the many poems written by Paul. It was in 1967 when the image was discovered among many others.

Ernst used the Surrealism style of painting. In this type of art, the meanings of the art pieces cannot be determined by just the logical explanation but through an unconscious thought process. Several other painters have used a similar style include Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch as well as contemporary painters such as Marc Chagall and Giorgio de Chirico. Each of the painted workers shows some form of self-exploration. He pushed some personal fantasies and unique ways of presenting some truth and facts. It is hard for any reader to make sense of the images from the face value of the same.