Modern and Contemporary Art

The Bewildered Planet

The Bewildered Planet
  • Max Ernst 1891, Germany - 1976, France
  • The Bewildered Planet
  • 1942
  • Oil on canvas
  • 110x140cm
  • Gift of the artist, 1955

The Bewildered Planet is one of the first paintings that Max Ernst created in the United States after arriving there in 1941. Its structure is reminiscent of conventional landscape paintings. Nevertheless, the desolate place, the totem poles, and the planetary orbits lend it a characteristically Surrealist appearance. The landscape appears to be primordial and untouched, or, on the other hand, damaged by a catastrophe. The totem poles relate to Ernst’s interest in the secrets of the universe, in myths, and in magical powers.

Ernst employed painting techniques based on the principle of automatism. The landscape is rendered by means of a technique known as “decalcomania”: Ernst first applied paint to the canvas, and then placed another canvas on top of it, pressing and rubbing the two canvases together. When he removed the top canvas, he obtained accidental forms with a flattened surface, which he then further refined. The planet’s orbit is painted by means of the “oscillation” technique: making a small hole in the bottom of a paint can and swinging it over the canvas. It is customary to see this technique as a forerunner of Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings.”   


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