Max Ernst (April 1891-April 1976), an intellectual artist, was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. One of the key founders of ‘Dadaism’ and ‘Surrealism,’ Max enrolled in the University of Bonn in 1909, where he studied philosophy and abnormal psychology, which provided material for his art. In 1912, he seriously turned to painting, but it was only in 1918, after his war service, that he began to develop his own unique style. He made a series of collages, using illustrations from medical and technical magazines to form bizarre juxtapositions of images. In 1924, Ernst created his famous -painting, “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale.”

This oil on wood painting, measuring 27 1/2 x 22 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (69.8 x 57.1 x 11.4 cm), starts from one of those instincts of irrational panic, which we suppress when we are fully awake and conscious. In this painting, a red wooden gate, attached superficially to the painted surface of the canvas, acts as an entryway to the pastoral view, with a blue sky sharing the major proportion of the art piece. “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale,” depicts a girl, scared by the flying bird (birds were frequent in Ernst’s work), has a knife. Another one faints away on the ground. A man, shown atop the roof, is carrying a baby. He tries to strike a balance with his hand groping to grab a knob. The knob is fastened to an old fashioned, three-dimensional supplement of the canvas. This combination of unlike elements on different planes employs the collage technique.

A small bird turning frightening, despite being significant in size, alarm bell staying out of reach, are all the elements of dreams and fantasies. “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale” incorporates the elements of traditional European painting, such as illusion of death, a dominant sky, formal poses, architectural style of dome & tower, and a triumphal arch. In addition, the painting violates the traditional painting rules of staying within the frame. “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale” ‘actually’ breaks out of the frame, such as the doorbell, the gate, and the house, are superficial three-dimensional, physical objects.

In a way, in Max’s “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale,” viewers get a perception of swinging between real and imaginary, creative and actual. The scene does look false and purely imaginary that too quite elementary or childish. Nothing looks sensible in the picture. Yet, despite all those traditional boundaries, the total experience is incredible. Ernst dared to re-create a feeling, quite familiar to us through our dreams. The elements of the painting have a total disorientation. They seem to belong to a fantasy world, where the scales, volumes, and functions have their unique tangents of purpose. This masterpiece is presently gracing The Museum of Modern Art, New York.