Frottage is a surrealist and ‘automatic’ method of creative production that involves creating a rubbing of a textured surface using a pencil or other drawing material

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  • Max Ernst, 'The Entire City' 1934
    Max Ernst
    The Entire City 1934
    Oil on paper laid on canvas
    support: 502 x 613 mm
    frame: 696 x 798 x 47 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Knapping Fund 1941© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Max Ernst, 'Forest and Dove' 1927
    Max Ernst
    Forest and Dove 1927
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1003 x 813 mm
    frame: 1200 x 1012 x 66 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Richard Long, 'Slate Drawing One' 2002
    Richard Long
    Slate Drawing One 2002
    Screenprint on paper
    image: 240 x 500 mm
    Purchased 2003© Richard Long

The technique was developed by Max Ernst in drawings made from 1925. Frottage is the French word for rubbing. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. From 1925 he captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil. The results suggest mysterious forests peopled with bird-like creatures and Ernst published a collection of these drawings in 1926 titled Histoire Naturelle (natural history).

He went on to use a wide range of textured surfaces and quickly adapted the technique to oil painting, calling it grattage (scraping). In grattage the canvas is prepared with a layer or more of paint then laid over the textured object which is then scraped over. In Ernst’s Forest and Dove the trees appear to have been created by scraping over the backbone of a fish.