The J. Paul Getty Museum

Max Ernst

Object Details


Max Ernst


Frederick Sommer (American, born Italy, 1905 - 1999)






Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



19.2 × 24 cm (7 9/16 × 9 7/16 in.)


© Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation

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Object Description

This image of Surrealist painter Max Ernst posed against a weathered wooden wall has been overprinted with a negative of a rough, water-worn rock surface. As the two negatives merge together, the white-haired painter's flesh absorbs the rock's scaly "poetry of decay," hinting at Ernst's own advancing age and mortality. A dark horizontal beam cuts across the upper third of the photograph, slicing a recessed path across Ernst's eyes that gives the illusion of a mask. Rather than a straight likeness, this is a psychological portrait, though the viewer must contemplate whether it is an exploration of the subject or the photographer, Frederick Sommer. Ernst's work was influential in the development of Sommer's Surrealist imagery.


Frederick Sommer, American, born Italy, 1905 - 1999

Experimental Photography: The New Subjectivity (December 19, 1989 to March 4, 1990)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), December 19, 1989 to March 4, 1990
Frederick Sommer: Poetry and Logic (December 6, 1994 to February 12, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), December 6, 1994 to February 12, 1995
The Photographs of Frederick Sommer: A Centennial Tribute (May 10 to September 4, 2005)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 10 to September 4, 2005
Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (October 10, 2012 to August 25, 2013)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), October 10, 2012 to January 27, 2013
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), February 17 to May 5, 2013
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June 2 to August 25, 2013

Frederick Sommer at Seventy-Five: A Retrospective, edited by Constance W. Glenn and Jane K. Bledsoe (published on the occasion of an exhib. organized by Leland Rice for Long Beach: Art Museum and Galleries, California State University, Long Beach, 1980), p. 12.

Sommer, Frederick. Venus, Jupiter & Mars: The Photographs of Frederick Sommer, edited by John Weiss, exh. cat.; cosponsored by the Department of Art, University of Delaware and the Delaware Art Museum (Wilmington, Del.: Delaware Art Museum, 1980), fig. 24.

Sommer, Frederick. Sommer: Words (v. 1)/Images (v. 2) (Tucson: Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 1984), pl. 14.

Sommer, Frederick. All Children are Ambassadors [Alle Kinder sind Botschafter] (Munich, Germany: Nazraeli Press, 1992), pl. 12.