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This memorable painting from Max Ernst displays many of the hallmarks that established him as one of the finest exponents of European Surrealism, right across the 20th century.
Attirement of the Bride is also sometimes known under the alternative title of The Robing of the Bride and was completed in 1940, at a point where the artist had established a prominent position within the art world and was free to explore any avenue that took his imagination and will. Many famous artists struggle to establish a following within their own lifetime, particularly so when their style is groundbreaking, such as other members of the Surrealist movement. If we examine this artwork we immediately see the bride, as it were, dressed in an elaborate outfit that seems to combine a very thick material alongside a spread of red feathers. Most believe this figure to be Max Ernst's representation of his then lover, who was a lady by the name of Leonora Carrington. The title for the piece was actually used by Ernst several years earlier in one of his books, Beyond Painting.
Some have compared this painting to some of the work of Gustave Moreau, an artist who produced a number of symbolist paintings around half a century earlier. It was specifically the combination of traditional art styles with content that shocked and surprised. In this example, Max Ernst used somewhat garish colours which also increased the eye catching nature of this piece. The elaborate clothing and use of posed nudes gives an atmostphere of theatre, whilst the seemingly unrelated additions elsewhere in the piece are very much in tune with Surrealism. The reflection found in the mirror at the back of the scene is a technique used by many other members of this umbrella group of modern artists. It might even remind some of the common iconography used by Jan van Eyck during the Northern Renaissance, with reflective mirrors appearing in the likes of The Arnolfini Wedding and a panel within the The Ghent Altarpiece.
This painting was gifted to the Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice in 1976. This famous art collector played a highly significant role in Max Ernst's life, going way beyond just her role in purchasing several of his pieces. This included helping him to flee Europe to the safety of the United States as his career, even life, became under grave threat from the maruading troops of the German Third Reich. There is more on their relationship in our Max Ernst biography. The collection in this Venetian venue includes The Kiss, also by Max Ernst, as well as a number of pieces by related artists such as Paul Klee, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Arshile Gorky, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp and Joan Miro. The venues under the Guggenheim banner continue to promote the family name and also provide the public with access to some of the most significant artworks from recent times and help to educate us all about the merits of art history.
Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée) or L'habillement de l'épousée (de la mariée), to use its French name, has, in some people's eyes, shown an influence from the work of German painter, Lucas Cranach. This is particularly so in the way in which the figures are portrayed, "willowy", as described by the Guggenheim themselves. It is entirely right to claim that certain artists over the years have been famous for their signature approaches to how they captured the human body, and some have compared Max Ernst's work here to how Cranach would portray figures many centuries earlier within the Northern Renaissance. It is undeniable that whilst seeking to create his own new direction within the art world, Ernst was still entirely aware and also respectful of the great masters of the past and with his own German background he would have been well aware of the great names to have come from this nation, such as Cranach himself and also Friedrich and Durer.
This painting was completed in 1940, and measures around 130cm in length, and 96cm wide. It was produced purely in oil on canvas, but the artist did work in many other mediums during his career and was happy to experiment as much as he could. Max Ernst would have been in his late forties at the time of this painting, and therefore approaching his peak as an artist and working confidently whilst still being fresh and relatively young in his mind. Surrealism was all about using recognisable items but arranging them in ways that you just would not see in real life, just as one might dream some bizarre combinations. This is what sets it aside completely from abstract art, where items move further and further away from the point of being recognisable. Perspective was also something that would be altered as commonly within Surrealist paintings and we find elements of that within this artwork, both in the architectural angles as well as the use of lighting and shade.