Oedipus Rex (1922) by Max Ernst

Oedipus Rex - Max Ernst - 1922

Artwork Information

TitleOedipus Rex
ArtistMax Ernst
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions93 x 102 cm
Art MovementSurrealism
Current LocationPrivate Collection
Location Created Cologne / Cöln / Köln, Germany

About Oedipus Rex

“Oedipus Rex” is an intriguing surrealist oil painting created by the artist Max Ernst in 1922. The artwork is a symbolic painting that measures 93 x 102 cm and belongs to the Surrealist movement. It was crafted in Cologne, Germany, and is currently held in a private collection.

The artwork presents a composition of disconcerting and jarring imagery characteristic of Surrealism, challenging the viewers’ perceptions of reality. The foreground is dominated by a series of large, fleshy fingers stretching across the canvas, with unusual objects impaling them, such as nails and pens. These fingers appear to press against or emerge from a brick wall in the left-hand corner of the painting, bringing a tactile sense of texture to the piece.

Behind these fingers, a mythical green creature is situated, with bovine features suggesting a bull, yet the presence of a large eye on what could be perceived as the creature’s snout introduces an unsettling human-like quality. This interplay of animalistic and human elements is emblematic of Ernst’s exploration of the unconscious mind.

In the background, the palette shifts to muted blues and ochres, depicting an open landscape with an architectural structure. A sense of vast space is communicated through this landscape, contrasting with the heavy physicality of the foreground. The placement of a distant flying balloon in the sky introduces an element of whimsy, yet its small size amplifies the feeling of scale and distance in the painting.

The title “Oedipus Rex” references the ancient Greek tragedy, conjuring themes of fate, destiny, and the unconscious forces that shape human experience—themes that resonate with the painting’s surreal imagery and the movement’s use of symbolism to represent the workings of the mind. Ernst’s painting invites in-depth contemplation of its disparate elements and their possible symbolic meanings in the context of both the ancient myth and contemporary psychodynamic thought.

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