Max Ernst
Pietà or Revolution by Night 1923

Artwork details

Max Ernst 1891–1976
Pietà or Revolution by Night
Pietà ou La révolution la nuit
Date 1923
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1162 x 889 mm
frame: 1457 x 1188 x 88 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1981
Not on display

Display caption

In 1924 the poet André Breton published the first Manifesto of Surrealism. The primary aim of this literary and artistic movement was, he explained: 'to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality.' Inspired by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious, Surrealism used irrational images to portray the working of the human mind. Max Ernst's Pietà or Revolution by Night is typical. The painting replaces the traditional scene of Mary clasping the body of Christ with an image of the artist himself, held by his father. A staunch Catholic, Ernst's father had denounced his son's work, and the painting is often seen as rising out of their troubled relationship, although - like dreams - it resists precise analysis. Other Surrealists included the poets Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon, and the artists René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Purges and defections meant that by 1939 the strength of the group had dissipated. However, it was not formally disbanded until 1968.

August 2004

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