|Une Semaine de Bonté
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Spend a surreal week in the company of German artist Max Ernst. Une Semaine de Bonté, a rather unsettling book whose title translates as A Week of Kindness, is a piece of surreal art like no other surreal piece of art – and that’s saying something.
Created in just three weeks in Italy in 1934 as Ernst’s native Germany marched to the thump of the Nazi drum, Une Semaine de Bonté is a very bizarre collection of 182 collages where humanity is mixed with mythology and the animal kingdom. There are ladies with serpent wings and gentlemen with lion heads. Many of the dramatic scenes display death, distress, bondage, nudity and violence – all twisted from the expected norms of death, distress, bondage, nudity and violence.
|Une Semaine de Bonté
Jean Jacques Pauvert, Paris
Une Semaine de Bonté was originally published as a series of five pamphlets with less than 1,000 copies of each printed. Now amazingly collectable, those original pamphlets have four-figure price-tags but Dover Publications has been printing an unabridged republication of the 1934 edition since 1976. New copies of this book, complete with the very informative publisher’s note explaining the method behind Ernst’s apparent madness, can be purchased for less than £15.
Born near Cologne, Ernst is the greatest exponent of the surreal collage. He selected images from existing catalogues and pulp novels, and then turned them into a series of lurid and exotic dreams and fantasies – serpents in the living room, aristocrats with the head of a lion, floods inside houses, murderous mutants, and dozens of bared breasts. Perhaps the strongest theme is birds, which fascinated Ernst throughout his career.
Une Semaine de Bonté has seven sections for each day of the week and each one illustrates one of Ernst’s seven deadly elements, including water and fire.
The German’s art was vital in the development of the Dada Movement and surrealism in general following the Great War. However, Ernst’s devotion to the weird and wonderful didn’t fit in with Nazi ideology and the artist, who had fought for Germany in World War I, fled to America before the outbreak of World War II. Along with fellow Europeans Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall, he helped develop abstract expressionism while living in the US. Ernst’s La Femme 100 Têtes (The Woman With One Hundred Heads) from 1929 is also worth a look for fans of surrealism.