Saturday, November 12, 2011

L'Ange du Foyer (The Fireside Angel)

In a metaphysical fashion, he prances about in personality and zealousness. Seeking ways to be seen by those around him, he vividly expresses himself. Deeply desirous of trust, rooted in a need to be relied upon, and hoping to receive the appropriate amount of attention, each of his actions are calculated and determined.

The innocence and genuine quality of his habitual efforts are almost always overlooked. Witty, friendly, a willing giver of hugs at any given frequency, often laying his own safety and future aside for others, he pours his heart and soul into energetically and silently screaming at the world that he's everything he claims to be and more. In some ways, there is a meticulous process to his actions, yet intermingled are moments of spontaneity that derive from the very same passions that motivate him.

Sadly, for most, he is scary. He's loud, abrasive, jagged, and uncouth. Almost overly animated and abstract, he approaches nearly every situation causing others to flinch or recoil. He's at fault for trying too hard, yet his persistence is obvious. So why is he so misunderstood? The old adage says, "It's the thought that counts," but how that is perceived is absolutely relative. If he's truly pure in his intention, that will mean nothing when deemed impure by those around him. Judgment is a cruel beast and carried out by every single living human in one way or another. For him, it's a minute-by-minute experience on levels some won't experience in a lifetime.

L'Ange du Foyer (The Fireside Angel) by Max Ernst (1891-1976) is the painting of such a man. Known as one of the great Dada and Surrealism artists of his time, Ernst portrays a vivid creature in a moment of joyous expression. Seemingly alive and grinning, the individual bursts with color, leading with a determined gape of his mouth and a pleasant squint of his eyes, and showing no regard for how he may appear. By human standards, he is, in some ways, horrifying yet ultimately fascinating. He embodies movement and attention-getting displays, yet cannot avoid aesthetic imperfections that may be perfect for him, but uncomfortable for others.

L'Ange du Foyer is roughly translated to mean, "The Angel of the Home (or Hearth)", and is a poignant way of defining the aforementioned man. In some ways—and if taken literally—this angel could easily watch over someone's home with success. Yet, for the home owner, this angel could be a bit too much to take. It calls into question why we as humans, at times, feel unduly exhausted by someone's persona. Shouldn't it always be about who that person is from the heart?

A comment was made to the man that it seemed highly unlikely others could not find him as appealing as the person speaking to him. He chuckled and brushed off the compliment; not to be thankless, but because he knew all too well how others have already treated him. He's been hurt countless times by the comments and actions of those around him, and at varying moments in his life. Yet, each day, he continues to display his true personality, never giving up or forsaking who he is at his very core. He refuses to give in to the pressure to be a certain way that others dictate. Why should he?

Indeed, over time, his antics in the eyes of others—efforts in his eyes—have been shunned and even reprimanded, but as time has gone by, he's learned. He's aged. He's gained wisdom. He's found acceptance and success. Perhaps some may feel it's a little too late, but for him, it's magnificent and humbling. Oh yes, his celebratory reactions are just as bright as his every-day actions, and even those have garnered some dissension. But he hasn't changed. He won't change! In time, he'll slow down with each passing year, but that's purely physical. His heart, however, will remain the fantasy he's harbored and passionately shared with anyone who wished to see it. For that is something no one can or will ever take away from him. And until that heart is recognized for what it really is, he will remain the surreal, uncouth, and misunderstood man he has for far too long.


  1. Your analysis was so profound and enlightening! My art teacher instructed us to find a Surrealist work of art from a collection of artists and while searching the internet, I came across L'Ange du Foyer. Initially, I understood this to be a painting of some raucous, rioting beast. He appeared to be roaring and stomping his foot in frusteration. From his leg and arm spawned another unnatural creature, surely about to terrorize its surroudings like its parent. It was horrifying but also managed to be captivating. After reading your description, my perception has been dramatically altered!! Now I consider this painting to instead be a depiction of delight and joy! Thanks! I really appreciate your insigt!

  2. You are too kind, thank you! I pour my heart and soul into what I write and seeing what you've shared means a lot to me. This is why I write and if only one person is reached, that's reward enough.

  3. Your description is false, Max ernst say that this "person" made reference at the defeat of the Republicans in spain. visit this site if you want more informations :

    ps: sorry if there are mystakes but i'm french

  4. I appreciate the feedback, Anonymous. Please know that my blog is about how art can influence the mind and our hearts. While I strive to ensure artist and date are notated properly, I am merely using the piece as a vessel for extracting emotions that can be relayed and exemplified. Ernst rightfully had his reasons, but as an amateur critic, it is my joy and privilege to discover other possibly unintended evocations that can be extrapolated.

  5. I see, You describe the work under one other forms, please excuse me for this comment then.

  6. Fortunately, there is nothing to excuse. You gave some information and feedback because you were immersed in what I shared. For that, I am appreciative. =)

  7. The work must be viewed in its historical context. Many have noticed its ambivalence, which is fine - Ernst is an artist and thus impossible to pin down. On the one hand it definitely is a response to Fascism, to Nazism, depicting the raging, primeval Beast, the God of collective violence, He who can't think, sprung from the earth, always present in mankind and destroying everything in its way. Note the blood-red sole of its foot, with its root-like protuberances (pulled from the soil?) and its claws.

    On the other hand it depicts the triumph of the artist freeing himself from precisely just that animal inside all of us, and turning it into the object of his creative process, transforming it into a work of art in form as well as content. You have given us a (romanticised?) description of the last, and may find it as fascinating and fruitful to delve deeper into its origins between the two bloodiest, most cataclysmic events in history - the two World Wars - right at the moment when the Beast launched its attack on him personally.

    For Max Ernst was one of the most socially committed artists ever, despite his apparent rejection of societal influence. Dada's violent reaction to its times paradoxically confirms this committedness.

    Nico from Pretoria

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Love your analyses of the piece, I think you are rather spot on even despite the historicism that he made it as a result to [political] warfare...

    Beneath that though, I really think it does joust with the human condition, our notions of aesthetics, visual judgement overriding empathy...

    And to be more personal, this is one of the few pieces of art to which I feel wholeheartedly reflects my being. In life, amongst friends and family, I always get a grave instinctual feeling that I am misunderstood: the softer forms of my personality, my bouts of whimsy, my witticisms, my passions, I always feel that they are tarred or mystified by a prejudged disposition that I am a man of seriousness and austerity. Of course there is small truth to these assumptions but it is only ever the uppermost part of being, the part which I use to act and deal with society. Represented here in a bestial form, the figurative iceberg of my personality.

    Irony then ensues when I begin to display the softer aspects of my personality and others view that as the part which is wholly inconsistent to their model of my being, even though it is the day-to-day normative experience for myself.

    And alas, I find this to be conducive of society as a whole: A society which conditions us (through media, commerce, advertisements and even education) to judge people on appearance or social standing... We trade in surface detail so why delve for more? The metaphor may be a bit too obvious but we do view people as beasts relative to who they really are… and not rather, as the people they are from within.

    And so this is why I attempt to break these norms, as you say I try not to give in to pressure that others dictate. For example I may occasionally go to the supermarket in un-ironed or dog-hair covered clothes because I simply feel comfortable enough within myself to do so... (And yet neither is it intentional, I'm just following my natural whims, dancing to my own merry tune)

    Consequently, I then enjoy it when people begin to actively and visibly judge me on such appearances; they look down on me as just another typical, local delinquent even though they don't care to know that I may hold an Art Masters or read Kafka or Dostoyevsky. No! People judge, they see the beast and not the soul. And it actually pleases me too as it works to be an incisive filter for finding people of true worth. I think this is why I greatly appreciate the happy joviality of the dancing beast in the picture... He is in celebration and comfort of himself, despite contrary to how people judge him.

    Ultimately I feel L'Ange du Foyer is about appearances and the falsities of them. The picture displays a colourful flamboyant beast, adorned with sharp claws and long teeth. This naturally draws us to conclude negative associations and yet his painted demeanour and actions are in contrast to these associations where he is viewed to be happily dancing, totally contented with his being, celebrating his Self without spite.

    These facets build to highlight how people can make acrimonious (or otherwise) judgements upon others in which this oxymoronical contrast between ‘malevolent’ aesthetics and nonthreatening demeanour displays how such judgements can be viewed to be incorrect upon closer inspection. Notwithstanding it also asks people to delve deeper into others and not merely accept their uppermost, bestial form as bearing the most truth.

    All of this would be sufficient for my pleasure if not that I also happen to see myself as that beast, that inwardly happy beast: dancing to my own tune waiting for my heart to be recognised for what it truly is...

  10. Very inforrmative. Helped me a lot in a project I am doing about surrealism

    1. Thanks for the comment. However, I must insist that Ernst's motive for initiating the painting is not a historicism committed by myself, but a simple, verifiable fact on the historical record: he felt that had to flee from an imminent Nazi onslaught on his person.

      In fact, that is why some commentators place it alongside Picasso's Guernica as one of the century's great artistic responses to the injustices of war.

      So, it could of course be your happily dancing beast, but it demonstrably is also the triumphantly dancing beast of Nazi Germany predicted by Nietzsche and Carl Jung.

      Even if it wasn't the case, the shape of the Angel confirms this - it resembles a swastika, somewhat morphed to disguise it and to satisfy his formal aesthetic intentions, but a swastika nevertheless.

      Of course, through his interpretation he was reaffirming the "Triumph of Surrealism", his own ironic subtitle, for he was turning the Nazist idea of what the Angel and the Hearth constitute around to express this specific art movement's interpretation, through himself, of what these concepts actually could mean: freedom, love, etc.

      This does not take away anything of his artistic reaction to what Nazism stood for, such as utter perversion of the human soul (hence the deformations and other weird happenings) by way of bestial hatred and its concomitant warfare and destruction of everything human.

    2. Your interpretations are correct, but I beg you to see beyond fact; see beyond realism and notice subtlety. While Ernst may have been painting an image to depict his interpretation of what was happening in his time, I argue that his work speaks to so much more.

      Despite my utmost of respect for the true meaning of art, I also do not want to neglect hidden meanings; hidden signs of what else may be going on. Thus, I've removed my interpretations from fact and examined his work plainly. I've done my best to see the piece for what it is--regardless of intent--and to seek the positive. You may be correct in your interpretive notion, but it is meaningless when seen through the eyes of someone who has been perilously and unfairly misinterpreted.

  11. Hi, Adrift, don't worry, we are on exactly the same page. I was just trying to point out, broadly speaking, the paradox/enigma/dualism of the work's formal and substantial aspects. So there is really no essential contradiction in our viewpoints.

    If you would re-read my 31 August comment's second paragraph, you may understand better from what angle I am approaching the Angel. It's not for nothing that he has been my desktop wallpaper right from the start! He liberates the human spirit in a totally unexpected, paradoxical manner, and not according to mere political facts and surface realities.

    In other words, just as,say, Shostakovitch on the one hand gave the world two of the world's most subversive artworks in his symphonies no's 5 and 10, but at the same time two superlative triumphs of the creative spirit that can be interpreted or experienced in any which way you like, so Ernst did exactly the same.

    Our Angel is at once subversive and liberating.

    You are therefore absolutely entitled to interpret/experience the Angel in your own way (I also do, but just haven't alluded to it) - no matter how subtle, personal or esoteric - the House of Surrealism has many rooms and I am perfectly sure that you will be universally applauded and welcomed for your extremely sensitive and liberating insights into the work.

    In fact, it is obvious that you have achieved what any Surrealist would wish for his viewers to do: to respond in her/his personal way.

    What more could any artist expect?

    1. So, the good-willed but clumsy person turns into a symbol for Nazism and back to a liberating angel?
      Shows how worthless most 'art interpretations' are.
      It sort of works as storytelling. 'See who can think up the most outrageous story based on the picture!'.

      I also strongly disagree with your opinion that this sort of bamboozle is what an artist would wish for - I believe any real artist would hate to see his work misinterpreted.
      Of course, unless you are a dadaist, who likes to set the chaos to the world.

  12. j'aime le texte

  13. I was deeply fascinated by this painting several years ago when I first saw it. At that time I was quite young, I think around my early twenties, and when I was alone at home I would always make some kind of racket and talk to some invisible person about many random things, or just re-enacting some dialogues from movies. So when I looked at this painting I felt he was familiar to me. That when I was home alone, l'ange du foyer would animate my behavior.

    I love your analysis. I think I understand it.

    1. Thank you for sharing and for your words. You've inspired me to return to writing here as well as to begin writing my first book.

      Never stop being the true you. I can't think of a single person who doesn't spend some time talking to him or herself. And if someone claims they do not, they're likely not nearly as intelligent as you and me. ;)