Long before Max Ernst ever laid eyes on the fantastic landscapes of the Sedona desert in Arizona, he had already dreamed of it in his paintings. Persecuted in France for being German and by Nazi Germans for being anti-Nazi, Ernst was forced to leave Europe during World War II, not without having spent a bit of time at a French prison camp.
It was American heir Peggy Guggenheim who hauled Ernst and the bulk of his paintings across the Atlantic to the safety of of America. Max who would soon fall in love with -and marry- the painter Dorothea Tanning, was not looking to settle down in Arizona; it was more like Sedona found him.
As Ernst and his wife were travelling by car all the way from New York to California, they crossed the Sedona desert and Max was fascinated to find that what he had painted in his works was alive there, away from all the madding crowds. There were no resorts in Sedona at the time, no homes in the area, and it was insane to think of living there, in the middle of the desert, but Max decided that he had to build a house right there, by the side of the landscapes that had inspired him, before he even knew they existed.
Here is the story told by the protagonists themselves, as portrayed in Peter Schamoni’s excellent film about Ernst:
Needless to say, there were no hotels to speak of around Sedona, Arizona then; so Max and Dorothea just had to load their car with everything they needed and come back to start building the house of their dreams.
Ernst always turned the houses he lived in into works of art: he sculpted strange creatures all around his house in the South of France, he painted frescos on all the walls of Paul Eluard’s home while he stayed there, and the Sedona, Arizona home was no exception. Max made huge sculptures that adorned the yard and he enjoyed one of the most productive periods in his life while he was there.
Visiting the houses of Max Ernst in France and in Sedona is something I would recommend to anybody remotely interested in Art. As a matter of fact, I have been chasing them for some years now, still without success; but I know that I will see them one day.
One of my favorite, perhaps my all-time favorite Max Ernst painting is in fact EUROPA NACH DEM REGEN (Europe after the rain), which is a painting inspired by the destruction of the Second world war in Europe, that deeply prefigures the Sedona landscapes Max would later encounter.
Whether we attribute Max’s discovery to a prophetic gift, which as we can see from his words on the video, he was very reluctant to do, or not; one cannot stop thinking that this was a sort of magical encounter between an artist and one special corner of the Earth that could provide the best environment for the creation of his art.
Ever since the times of Ernst’s life, Sedona has greatly changed. There are now some great hotels there, and the good thing is that their architecture has been designed to blend in with the surrounding landscape. Such is the case of the beautiful Hyatt Pinion Pointe, to name just one among the many inns and motels with fantastic views abundant in the area.
If you are interested in visiting Sedona, check out this brochure by Sedona Arts. It features a story about Max and his love story with Dorothea.
Other than a visit to Sedona, I can also recommend taking an interest in Ernst himself. An artist who never surrendered to politics or dogma, Ernst is not only an icon of painting but also of independent thought. To learn more about Max and enjoy more of his art I recommend my favorite book on him, which was published on the ocassion of the 100th anniversary of his birth: Max Ernst: A retrospective