Ubu Imperator (1923) by Max Ernst

Ubu Imperator - Max Ernst - 1923

Artwork Information

TitleUbu Imperator
ArtistMax Ernst
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions100 x 81 cm
Art MovementDada
Current LocationGeorges Pompidou Center, Paris, France
Location Created Paris, France

About Ubu Imperator

The artwork “Ubu Imperator” by Max Ernst dates back to 1923 and is fashioned using oil on canvas. This symbolic painting stands at 100 by 81 centimeters and epitomizes the Dada art movement. It was created in Paris, France and is currently housed within the collection of the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, France.

“Ubu Imperator” presents a surreal, dream-like scene that embodies the nonsensical and anti-rational spirit of Dada. At first glance, the artwork consists of a red, tower-like figure with anthropomorphic attributes, perhaps suggesting a twisted form of regal or dictatorial power—referencing the grotesque character ‘Ubu’ from the works of Alfred Jarry. This central figure has a circular head or top with two slits resembling eyes and a sharp, beak-like protuberance that might serve as a nose.

The body of the figure seems to be a spinning top, which is perhaps a metaphor for instability or the absurdity of power as seen by Ernst. The figure is adorned with a cape, emphasizing the regal undertone and contributing to the overall sense of the bizarre. The background is a stark desert landscape under a vast sky of swirling clouds, which further accentuates the surrealism of the scene.

The elongated shadow the figure casts seems disproportionate, lending an eerie aspect to the composition. In the hands of the uncanny protagonist, a slender scepter stands erect, reinforcing the themes of dominion and authority mingled with absurdity—a hallmark of the Dada movement’s explorations. Ernst’s choice of elements and the way he melds them together projects a sense of disquiet and critique, which may be interpreted as a manifestation of the anxiety and disillusionment of the post-war era in which he was working.

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