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Tree of Life

European Art

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Tree of Life

Artwork Details


Max Ernst
French, born Germany, 1891–1976




Oil on canvas

Accession #



114 x 82 3/4 inches


On View - Stent Family Wing, Level 2, Gallery 208


In Tree of Life, Max Ernst depicted a dream-like underwater world inhabited by strange hybrid creatures. Like his fellow Surrealists, Ernst challenged traditional artistic values by tapping the irrational, inner world of dreams and the unconscious mind. To do so, he often juxtaposed seemingly unrelated objects. Ernst loved birds and frequently included them in his paintings as symbols of pleasure. Snakes, on the other hand, represented horror. The serpent with a bird’s head in the center of this painting thus evokes the curious connection between pleasure and horror.


Purchase with funds from Alfred Austell Thornton in memory of Leila Austell Thornton and Albert Edward Thornton, Sr., and Sarah Miller Venable and William Hoyt Venable

Image Copyright

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris