Between 1919 and 1920, Max Ernst was one of the most enthusiastic leaders of the Dada movement in Cologne. Before long, he attracted the attention of Andre Breton, who in 1921 organized an
exhibition in Paris of Ernst's collages. By 1922, Ernst had moved to the French capital, and never again worked in his native country. In 1924, in Paris, the thirty-three-year-old artist became
one of the founding members of the Surrealist group.
Ernst's Surrealist paintings are steeped in Freud's theories of private mythology, and childhood memories. One of his major themes centered on the image of the bird, which often incorporated human elements.
Ernst's painting The Barbarians is about the transformation of democracy into barbarism. Take a look at the woman-bird's gesture with her mighty right hand as if she keeps the dome of the sky on her palm - barbarians always believe that they are Atlantis keeping the heaven from collapsing, and that without them the universe would shatter, that Gods desperately need their help. The man-octopus as if is warming up before starting his military advance on the human land - to conquer our lives, our cultural traditions, our ways of life, everything we produce, love and may invent. They as an exemplary family of the neo-conservative future are covered by a protective shell of high-tech impenetrable super-military armor
Barbarians, according to Ernst, are a combination of under-life and super-life. What they don't have, don't know and hate in advance is middle-life on the earth, humanity in its humility, its relativity and nobility. They are children of Hell and Paradise; a monstrous blend of the two. They are simultaneously, super- and under-human - but not human. Their rage and ruthlessness are from Hell, while their wealth and ambition from the heaven. The male cannibal's task is to destroy the middle-ground of human life - human condition as such; and the female cannibal will bring Paradise to Earth through creating apocalyptic hell. And then the male ogre will guard this hellish paradise from the remnants of the human race. The arrival of the barbarians to human world is already changing the humans - making them (because of their fear and fascination with the might of the barbarians) idolatrous under the barbarians' legs.