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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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A pioneer of surrealism, Max Ernst was born in the late nineteenth century in Germany and was largely self taught. Throughout his career, Ernst went against the grain and followed his own artist endeavours and inspirations.

Pleiades by Max Ernst sees his interpretation of one of the nymphs, companion to Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt. The painting is clearly surrealist in style, with its strange, discombobulated composition and unconventional pairing of the human and objects. The painting is undeniably erotic, with the headless nymph depicted as completely nude. Below the painting is the line 'The gravitation of the undulations does not yet exist'. This would seem to suggest that Ernst sees the creature as being free from the binds of social expectation and is able to be naked and free as she floats either on water or through the sky - the painting does not definitively make clear which. Although the painting is commonly titled Pleiades, it also has another name - Approaching Puberty.

This title would perhaps more closely suggest what Ernst is trying to represent - the freedom that comes with nakedness before it is judged and altered by puberty and the oncoming sexual awakening. Painted in 1921, Pleiades falls in the middle of Ernst career. As an artist, Max Ernst did not just paint but was also a sculptor. This feel for the tangibility of form is evident by the three dimensional nature of the figure. Her body is reminiscent of Greek and Roman sculptures which are often found to be headless. His experimental nature also encompassed delving into techniques such as collage and grattage.

This allowed the artist to free their mind and enable their hidden temperament to burst through in order to create art without restriction. Ernst also wrote poetry and the eroticism and sensual form of the nymph aligns with a romanticised view of the Pleiades myths. During his career, Ernst enjoyed both critical and financial success. He fled from Europe during World War II after briefly being interned as an undesirable foreigner. Emigrating to America, he married the famous American art collector, Peggy Guggenheim. Although their marriage didn't last, Ernst stayed in Arizona up until the 1950s, before moving back to Paris where he lived until the end of his life. Ernst is still seen as an innovator of surrealism and continues to inspire critics and artists alike.