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City with Animals is an oil on canvas piece that Max Ernst did in 1919. The German sculptor and painter did the painting at a tumultuous period in Europe. It was during this time that the Russian empire was crumbling, World War I started, and the arts saw avant-garde institutions infiltrate the industry.
During the war, Ernst served as an artillery engineer and most of the artwork he did during this era was a reflection of the troubles he had witnessed. In most of his paintings, the artist used imagery to relay messages. He made his works appear as dream sequences and City with Animals is one example. In this painting, Ernst presents a scene where a lot seems to be going on. The foreground has three central animals, a cow, calf and donkey. They are on a partially green patch that appears higher than the rest of the area.
The large cow is resting as if it just finished grazing. A single play sprouts from the ground where the animals are sitting. In the background, a collection of buildings are sitting on a valley. Houses are on either side of a path that meanders from one end of the street to the other. People are scattered all over. In the furthest house, a man is leaning outside a balcony, as if searching for something.
Ernst loved playing with colours in his different techniques. Here, he used a wide range that spans primary and secondary classes. The cow is indigo, the calf is red while the donkey is a rich shade of green. The ground where the animals are on is a mixture of lights green and a bright azure hue. As for the buildings, they are mostly green and blue. The different shades provide a vibrant contrast. Hints of red and yellow are all over the painting. The sky goes from a light to a darker shade of green.
Ernst had a big interest in aesthetics as he explained in an article titled "On The Origins of Colour" and this artwork is a manifestation of that. City with Animals combines Cubism and Surrealism. It a testament to the unique blend of painting methods for which Ernst was famous. A closer look will reveal the Futurist tones of the artwork. The ambiguity of the characters in the piece gives it the enigmatic traits that define Surrealism. City with Animals is not open to easy interpretation, and that is part of the style. It represents what Ernst imagined a city with animals would look like.