ernst, fireside angel, 1937

Fireside Angel was painted by Max Ernst in 1937.  Ernst created this painting for the Exposition international du surrealism which took place at the Galerie de Beaux-Arts in Paris.[1]  This painting is one of few in his career that were inspired from political events.[2]  Ernst painted Fireside Angel shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.[3]  In this conflict, Spanish fascist leaders were supported by Germany and Italy in their victory.  Ernst’s goal was to depict the chaos that he saw spreading over Europe and the ruin that fascism brings to countries.

Ernst uses the title of this painting to aid in evoking a sense of chaos and destruction.  The use of the word angel confuses an observer at first due to the abstract and grotesque figure that is the painting’s subject.  He forces the viewers mind to think of these elements in a biblical sense.  Ernst draws his audience to imagine the angel in the painting as if it were the angel of death from the seven plagues or a beast unleashed at the end of days.   It appears that Ernst is even provoking his audience to question their own beliefs by calling such a figure an angel.  This defies to how angels are traditionally portrayed as beautiful and majestic winged human figures in contrast to the monster that Ernst created.   Max Ernst’s title of this work was a direct ploy to intrigue and engage his audience.

One intriguing thing about this work is that the original title was the Triumph of Surrealism, and its figure was much smaller than the one produced in 1937.[4]  Ernst changed the title of the painting later in accordance to his personal feelings about fascism’s growth in Europe after the defeat of the Spanish Republicans.[5]  In the final edition of Fireside Angel, Ernst makes the creature more dynamic in appearance than it was in the first painting.  The use of a larger image draws the viewers eye directly to the painting’s subject and concentrates focus on its features instead of other areas on the canvas.  Ernst also changed the angel’s composition by shifting from animal to human features to form the subject. This shift is not present in the original and signifies Ernst’s attempt at unveiling the true nature of fascism.  This is mostly due to how Ernst zooms in on the creature instead of showing the figure at a distance.  By doing so, Ernst creates a grotesque image that puzzles the reader.

Ernst’s palette and use of oil creates the dynamic of chaos and motion that he hoped to share with his audience.  The angel does not feature a single main color in its depiction.  Instead, Ernst includes colors from across the entire spectrum.  These colors range from white and yellow in the creatures head to blues, greens, browns, and reds that compose the rest of the angel’s form.  The use of oil to paint the picture hides the brushstrokes which give the figure a more fluid look than if using paint.  Ernst also incorporates a mixture of faded and defined lines to obscure the image in some areas, which causes the viewer to observe the painting more carefully in those places.  The use of shading and diagonal lines helps to portray the idea of this giant moving clumsily and rapidly across a proverbial European wasteland.  The lack of uniformity creates a feeling of chaos that strongly impacts the viewer.

Another interesting element featured in this painting is the creature that seems to be spawning from the angel’s side.  This aspect of the painting is Ernst’s effort at trying to reveal how these fascist governments were spreading and becoming more abundant.  It serves as a warning by Ernst to suggest that fascism needed to be halted or else more of these creatures may spawn and create even more trouble for the world.  Ernst’s use of dark color for the spawning figure portrays the cruelty and darkness that was inherent in governments such as the Nazi Party.  Max Ernst’s fear of fascist governments is portrayed in this image by the newly forming angel from the pre-existing figure.

Max Ernst predicted the chaos and destruction that would be caused by World War II in Fireside Angel.  Ernst saw what could happen if fascist governments were allowed to spread and not controlled by other more liberal powers.  When reflecting back on this painting, Ernst could not believe that what he depicted about the outcome of Europe after the Spanish Civil War had become true.[6]  Ernst meant for Fireside Angel to be a warning against the corruption present in a military controlled government.  Max Ernst portrayed his cautionary tale in a way that was characteristic of surrealism yet practical enough for the ordinary man to get the thoughts behind the artwork.


Works Cited

Pech, Jurgen. “Max Ernst in France: In the Surrealist Circle.” In Max Ernst: Dream and Revolution,    ed. by Werner Spies, Iris Muller-Westermann, and Kristen Degel, 76.  Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje   Cantz Verlag, 2008.

Spies, Werner, Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Max Ernst: A Retrospective. New York: Metropolitan Musuem of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.


The Legacy Project, Fireside Angel, accessed February 15, 2012,

[1] Jurgen Pech, “Max Ernst in France: In the Surrealist Circle,” in Max Ernst: Dream and Revolution, ed. by Werner Spies, Iris Muller-Westermann, and Kristen Degel ( Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2008), 76.

[2] The Legacy Project, Fireside Angel, accessed February 15, 2012,

[3] The Legacy Project, Fireside Angel, accessed February 15, 2012,

[4] Werner Spies, Sabine Rewald, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.), Max Ernst: A Retrospective( New York: Metropolitan Musuem of Art, 2005), 27-28, 226-227.

[5] Ibid, 28.

[6] The Legacy Project, Fireside Angel, accessed February 15, 2012,

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