This was the first of Max Ernst’s themed sets of collages, preceding Une Semaine des Bonte, and La Femme Cent Tetes (both 1929). Les Malheurs was produced as a set of illustrations for Paul Eluard’s poem. This range of narrative collages, cut-ups from the vast store of Victorian magazine engravings that Ernst had access to at that time, are brilliant examples of the art of surrealist collage. The line (rather than tone) nature of the source engravings, make it easier to achieve high-quality ‘seamless’ collages, but that does not mitigate against the genius of Ernst’s vision.
U. M. Schneede has commented:
“Disparate elements are here brought together in a less complex and more acute form. The man-beast hybrid makes its appearence and transforms an idyllic interior into a demonic stage-set … The twin starting-points of Max Ernst’s expressive impulse are a search for appropriate avenues for working out in visual terms the private obsessions of his childhood, and also his understanding of the Freudian analysis of such obsessions. His relationship with an authoritarian father, the pressures of middle-class family life, are psychoanalytically interpreted …”
(Uwe M. Schneede 1973)