Max Ernst’s painting, The Joy of Life, completed in 1936 as part of a series called “jungle paintings,” depicts twisted leaves and tendrils in combat with each other, creating an entangled jungle-like scene. Ernst used this style to symbolize the fears and suppressed desires within the human mind. It is important to note that title of the painting becomes bitter and ironic upon careful observation. While it shares a name with Matisse’s work under the same title, Ernst added his own twist on it by creating more tangled undergrowth rather than lush foliage.
Ernst was born in Germany and became an innovative artist by mining his unconscious for dreamlike imagery that mocked social norms. A soldier during World War I, he was deeply traumatized which influenced his critical views on Western culture when he emerged from the war. As a pioneer for both Dadaism and Surrealism movements in Europe during the 1910s-1920s, Ernst used various media forms to give visual form to both personal memory and collective myths; he had no formal artistic training encouraging an experimental attitude toward art making.
Ernst applied Freud’s concept of dream interpretation to investigate deeper into his psyche which led him towards using unconventional methods to describe Symbolism through Expressionism techniques showcasing his strong Romantic heritage thriving german art while provoking thoughts on society’s constraints through thought-provoking artworks like The Joy of Life.