A prominent member of the German avant-garde, Max Ernst was a pioneer of the Surrealist and Dada movements seeking to explore the unconscious through the dream-like imagery that saturates his artwork. In the present work Ernst employs his unique technique of grattage, a method he developed following his discovery of frottage in 1925. The method of grattage involves preparing a canvas with layers of paint before laying it over a textured object, which is then scraped over. Ernst conveys his interpretation of Susanna’s story through the natural lines and markings in the wood and by use of a bold and haunting red. The patterns create an unsettling and ambiguous backdrop against which the figures have been placed. The texture of the wood forms a web across the canvas exacerbating the narrative’s sense of entanglement and claustrophobia almost depicting forest - a theme evocative of Ernst's work. As the gazes of the elders ensnare Susanna, so too does Ernst’s painting captivate those who look upon it.
The figure of Susanna is central to the composition; she does not hide in the shadows but stands out against the dark background. The blistering use of red invokes themes of forbidden lust and voyeurism whilst concurrently prophesying the story’s violent conclusion. Colour is employed in Ernst’s work atmospherically to create a dramatic and expressive sense of menace. In dealing with such a well-known topic Ernst can eschew didacticism and focus upon creating a psychosocially harrowing, and thought-provoking retelling of the story.
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