A Week of Kindness (Une Semaine de bonté), is the most elaborate of Ernst’s inventive “collage novels.” Its 182 images were created by cutting up and reorganizing illustrations from nineteenth-century novels, scientific journals, and other sources. By printing these collages photomechanically, Ernst transformed them into the seamless images he desired. The surreal constructions, alternately dark and humorous in their subversion of bourgeois gentility, are rife with suggestions of repressed sexuality, violence, anti-militarism, and anticlericalism. Though originally planned as seven volumes, one for each day of the week, the last three “days” were combined into the fifth and final volume. Ernst released them consecutively, like popular serial stories.
Gallery label from Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, September 23, 2017-January 1, 2018.
A major figure in both the German Dada and French Surrealist movements, Max Ernst was a prolific and experimental printmaker who used printing as a means of going beyond painting. Between 1912 and 1974, he made more than five hundred lithographs, etchings, and linoleum cuts, many of which appeared as book illustrations. In Let There Be Fashion, Down with Art, Ernst's first major print project, he mapped out many of the motifs of his later work and also paid homage to the imaginary tableaux of Giorgio de Chirico. In a revolt against Expressionist printmaking, Ernst drew elements culled from commonplace printed advertisements onto a lithographic stone using a gestureless mechanical line. The anti-art sentiment reflected in this style, and the phrase "Down with Art," express the spirit of both nihilism and nonsense that was a pervasive aspect of Dada activities in Cologne at the time. Encouraged by Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, Ernst moved from Cologne to Paris in 1922. Exploring the practice of many painters and poets who wished to plumb the unconscious as a source for their art, Ernst experimented with the semiautomatic process of frottage—rubbings made from textured objects or surfaces. The patterns and textures generated by such rubbings were the starting point for his images, as seen in the portfolio Histoire Naturelle. Ernst also collaborated with poets, including André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and others, by providing illustrations for their texts. In 1929 he made his first "collage novel," incorporating a technique central to his experiments with the effects of chance. He created a series of collages with imagery culled from nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century pulp novels, scientific journals, and natural-history magazines and arranged them in a sequence as pages. He then printed these collages by photomechanical means to transform them into the seamless images he desired. Like popular serial stories, Ernst released Une Semaine de bonté in the form of five consecutive volumes that evoke erotic violence and intrigue, as well as humor.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.