Ernst was born on 2 April 1891 in a modest house in Bruhl, near Cologne into a middle class family of nine children. At the University of Bonn, he studied philosophy and psychology. In 1914, with the outbreak of war, Ernst spent four years in the German army, serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Thereafter, Ernst co-founded the Cologne Dadaist group. Dadaism was the precursor to the Surrealist movement and dealt with the mockery of existing social conventions.
Image from Wiki-paintings and used under the doctrine of Fair Use.
In 1922 Ernst moved to France. In 1939, when war again broke out, he found himself at odds with the authorities and was interned several times, first by the French authorities and then by the Gestapo. In 1941, he fled to the United States. To solve the problem of his German citizenship, he married Peggy Guggenheim. Shortly after that, he left her for another artist, Dorthea Tanning. They then moved to Sedona, Arizona. After the war, Ernst moved back to France. He continued to work there until his death on April the First 1976, one day before his 85th birthday.
Ernst, like many other German artists of the period, was conflicted by a world engaged in mutual mass destruction. War broke all the rules.
Dadaism was a precursor of many movements - Surrealism, Post-Modernism, Deconstruction, and Abstraction. If society created the monsters of early 20th Century politics, then artists had an obligation to recreate society. One of Ernst's guiding principles was, "Take the banal and make the marvelous." Thus, his paintings created farcical creatures and structures. His iconic work, Europe After the Rain, painted during the years 1940 - 1942, symbolizes his view of an apocalyptic world.
Ernst's alter-ego, the bird-like creature that appears in the center of the painting is called a Loplop . Juxtaposed to the Loplop is the head and armless torso of a woman facing the other way.
"An artist", Ernst said, "who finds himself is lost." Ernst was lucky and kept searching.