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SURREALISM  1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Conquest of the marvellous

(Pittura Metafisica)

As soon as Andre Breton moved in 1922 into the studio, in the Rue Fontaine in Paris, which he made into a holy place of surrealism, he set about turning the studies of the group towards 'automatic writing', a method which he and Soupault had used in 1920 to compose Les Champs magnetiques. Automatic writing consisted of writing down as rapidly as possible, without revision or control by reason, everything that passed through the mind when the writer had been able to detach himself sufficiently from the world outside. This exercise was intended to lay bare the 'mental matter' which is common to all men, and to separate it from thought, which is only one of its manifestations.

When Breton was a medical student at the Centre Neurologique in Nantes, he had become interested in possible methods of regenerating psychology on the basis of data provided by psychiatry. It was his ambition to make poetic language into an exploration of the unconscious. In this he based himself on the ideas of Sigmund Freud, who was at that time not appreciated in France, but whom Breton admired enough to visit him in Vienna in 1921. Pie also sought the views of scientists such as Th. Flournoy and Charles Richet, who had made studies of hypnosis and mediumship. In the 'sleep period' which was started at Breton's apartment at the suggestion of Rene Crevel, transcripts were made of what trance subjects said. The drawings of Robert Desnos, the hero of this period, show that the possibility of applying the techniques of automatic writing to painting was also envisaged at this time. Experiments of this kind produced a kind of almost intoxicated exhilaration and nervous exhaustion, as is borne out by Aragon's little book Une Vague de reves (1924).

Breton sets out the contents of these sessions in his Entree des mediums, in which he defines what he means by surrealism : 'a kind of psychic automatism which corresponds very closely to a dream state, which today is very difficult to delimit'. So the term which Guillaume Apollinaire had used in the sense of 'lyrical fantasy', when he described his Les Mamelles de Tiresias as a 'surrealist drama', now took on a new and strictly experimental meaning.

Guillaume Apollinaire

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Guillaume Apollinaire

born August 26, 1880, Rome?
died November 9, 1918, Paris

Pseudonym of Guillelmus (or Wilhelm) Apollinaris de Kostrowitzki poetwho in his short life took part in all the avant-garde movements that flourished in French literary and artistic circles at the beginning of the 20th century and who helped to direct poetry into unexplored channels.

The son of a Polish émigrée and an Italian officer, he kept his origins secret. Left more or less to himself, he went at the age of 20 to Paris, where he led a bohemian life. Several months spent in Germany in 1901 had a profound effect on him and helped to awaken him to his poetic vocation. He fell under the spell of the Rhineland and later recaptured the beauty of its forests and its legends in his poetry. More important, he fell in love with a young Englishwoman, Annie Playden, whom he pursued, unsuccessfully, as far as London; his romantic disappointment inspired him to write his famous “Chanson du mal-aimé” (“Song of the Poorly Loved”).

After his return to Paris, Apollinaire became well known as a writer and a habitué of the cafes patronized by literary men. He also made friends with some young painters who were to become famous—Maurice de Vlaminck, André Derain, Raoul Dufy, and Pablo Picasso; he introduced his contemporaries to Henri Rousseau's paintings and to African sculpture; and with Picasso, he applied himself to the task of defining the principles of a Cubist aesthetic in literature as well as painting. His Peintures cubistes appeared in 1913 (Cubist Painters, 1944).

His first volume, L'Enchanteur pourrissant (1909; “The Rotting Magician”), is a strange dialogue in poetic prose between the magician Merlin and the nymph Viviane. In the following year a collection of vivid stories, some whimsical and some wildly fantastic, appeared under the title L'Hérésiarque et Cie (1910; “The Heresiarch and Co.”). Then came Le Bestiaire (1911), in mannered quatrains. But his poetic masterpiece was Alcools (1913; Eng. trans., 1964). In these poems he relived all his experiences and expressed them sometimes in alexandrines and regular stanzas, sometimes in short unrhymed lines, and always without punctuation.

In 1914 Apollinaire enlisted, became a second lieutenant in the infantry, and received a head wound in 1916. Discharged,he returned to Paris and published a symbolic story, Le Poèteassassiné (1916; The Poet Assassinated, 1923), and more significantly, a new collection of poems, Calligrammes (1918), dominated by images of war and his obsession with anew love affair. Weakened by war wounds, he died of Spanish influenza.

His play Les Mamelles de Tirésias was staged the year before he died (1917). He called it surrealist, believed to be the first use of the term. Francis Poulenc turned the play into a light opera (first produced in 1947).

In his poetry Apollinaire made daring, even outrageous, technical experiments; his calligrammes, thanks to an ingenious typographical arrangement, are designs as well aspoems. More generally, Apollinaire set out to create an effect of surprise or even astonishment by means of unusualverbal associations and, because of this, could be called the herald of Surrealism.

Andre Breton

Breton's Surrealist Manifesto, Manifeste du surrealisme (1924), in noble and impassioned language, opened the indictment of the realist attitude in life and in literature. He struck up an enthusiastic hymn to imagination, the fountain where men could find eternal youth, and denounced adults for having let the passage of time rob them of a child's faculty of playfulness : 'Perhaps childhood is the nearest state to true life; childhood, beyond which, apart from his laissez-passer, man has only a few complimentary tickets'. Breton indicated that the aim of the movement was 'the marvellous', and preferably the marvellous in modern life, inspired by the symbolism of dreams, whose latent content was revealed by psychoanalysis. Surrealism was against the world of appearances, but it was not enough merely to reject it, with whatever brilliance. This world must be replaced by the world of apparition. He prayed for fairy enchantment. 'However delightful they may be, man would think it beneath him to draw all his nourishment from fairy tales, and I agree that not all of them are suitable for his age. But man's faculties do not undergo a radical change. Appeals to fear, the attraction of the unknown, chance, fondness for luxury, are appeals which will never be made in vain.'

Breton wanted surrealist paintings to give form to humanity's most secret longings : 'The fauna and the flora of surrealism are shameful and cannot be confessed to.' And he wanted the surrealist artists to eschew all pretensions to talent or style, and to behave as 'modest recording devices' who will not be hypnotized by the drawing they are making. He defined surrealism as the spontaneous exploitation of 'pure psychic automatism', allowing the production of an abundance of unexpected images. He stressed the intoxication which was produced by automatic writing, and said : 'Surrealism is a new vice, which, it seems to me, should not be the prerogative of only a few men.' (Later Aragon was to be more precise : 'The vice of surrealism is the uncontrolled and impassioned use of the drug image.') There was no question of replacing reality by a fantastic universe. The aim was to reconcile reality with the illogical processes which arise in ecstatic states or in dreams, with the aim of creating a super-reality. Surrealism cannot accurately be described as fantasy, but as a superior reality, in which all the contradictions which afflict humanity are resolved as in a dream.

The generosity and lyricism which bubbled over in Breton's message, and his impetuous, brilliant insolence, were sure to win over many minds. Yet the Manifeste led to a temporary break with Picabia, who, ever faithful to his maverick course, still believed that Dada would be resurrected, and scoffed at the new movement in 391: 'There is only one movement, and that is perpetual motion'. He invented 'instantaneism' as a game, and when he wrote the libretto of Relache in that same year, he baptized it an 'instantaneist ballet'. Shortly afterwards, Picabia retired to the Chateau de Mai, built to his own design in Mougins, near Cannes. There he led a bustling life between his yacht, his racing cars, the galas and competitions which he presided over, and the festivities he organized for the town of Cannes. He no longer took any decisive part in surrealism, but he remained in association with the movement because of his impulsive friendships, and of the development of his painting, which was moving into 'the so-called 'Monster' period.

The poets and painters who gathered under the black banner of surrealism claimed to be 'specialists in revolution'. They banded together to protest against intellectual privilege and intellectual malpractice. They affirmed the rights of the dream, of love, of awareness, and they joined in encouraging the mind to be open to wild encounters and to the surprises afforded by chance. From this time on they justified their wilful embracing of the scandalous by their anxiety to denounce the obstacles which prevent life from being a poetic adventure. Instead of jeering at the public, they sought its collaboration. A 'Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries' was opened in the Rue de Crenelle on 11 October 1924. Here, where a dress-shop dummy dangled from the ceiling, the public at large was invited to bring along accounts of dreams or of coincidences, ideas on fashion or politics, or inventions, so as to contribute to the 'formation of genuine surrealist archives'. Antonin Artaud took on the direction of the bureau and inspired it with his own nervous fire. 'We need disturbed followers more than we need active followers.'

La Revolittion surrealiste, 'the most scandalous periodical in the world', was founded in December 1924. The tone of its famous surveys ('Is suicide a solution ?'; 'What kind of hope do you put in love?' etc.) forced its readers to express a sensibility which went far beyond the normal cliches. Writing, painting and sculpture became aspects of one single activity - that of calling existence into question. The 'Declaration of 27 January 1925' laid down the statute. 'Surrealism is not a new or easier means of expression, nor is it a metaphysic of poetry; it is a means toward the total liberation of the mind and of everything that resembles it... We have no intention of changing men's habits, but we have hopes of proving to them how fragile their thoughts are, and on what unstable foundations, over what cellars they have erected their unsteady houses.' The twenty-six signatories included three painters, the first, chronologically, to join the movement : Max Ernst, Georges Malkine and Andre Masson.

The group's ideal was to share genius in common, without any loss of individuality. This was the reason underlying the surrealist games, which were not mere entertainments. When the friends met in each other's apartments they felt the brotherhood of their imaginations. The Game of the Analogical Portrait, the Truth Game, the When and If Game, and the Game of Exquisite Corpse, were methods devised to extract marvels from everyday reality. The most popular game was Exquisite Corpse (le Cadavre exquis), in which a sentence or a drawing was made up by several people working in turn, none of them being allowed to see any of the previous contributions. La Revolution surrealiste published many results of this poetry of chance : 'The winged vapour seduces the locked bird'; 'The strike of the stars corrects the house without sugar'. Paul Eluard, in Donner a Voir, stressed the ritual nature or these sessions. 'Several of us would often meet to string words together or to draw a figure fragment by fragment. How many evenings we spent in the loving creation of a whole race of Exquisite Corpses. It was up to every player to find more charm, more unity, more daring in this collectively determined poetry. No more anxiety, no more memory of misery, no more tedium, no more stale habit. We gambled with images, and there were no losers. Each of us wanted his neighbour to win more and more, so that he could pass it on to his neighbour'. When he recalled the Definition Game in his L'Amour fou (1937), Andre Breton spoke of it as 'the most fabulous source of unhndable images', that is, images which resulted from unforeseen associations of forms or themes, and which the surrealist artists kept in mind in their works. However, right from the first issues of La Revolution surrealiste, two authors bluntly put the question as to whether there was such a thing as surrealist painting. In an article entitled 'Les Yeux enchantes' ('Enchanted Eyes'), Max Morise (1900-1973) stressed the difficulties which painters had to face when they tried to accomplish the equivalent of automatic writing in their pictures. He doubted whether they could ever keep up with the speed of ideas and the succession of images with the same intensity as poets could keep up with the flood of words.

Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, Jacqueline Lamba
Exquisite Corpse, 1938

Le cadavre exquis

Exquisite corpse (also known as "exquisite cadaver" or "rotating corpse") is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun") or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.

The technique was invented by Surrealists in 1925, and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution.

Later the game was adapted to drawing and collage, producing a result similar to children's books in which the pages were cut into thirds, the top third pages showing the head of a person or animal, the middle third the torso, and the bottom third the legs, with children having the ability to "mix and match" by turning pages. It has also been played by mailing a drawing or collage — in progressive stages of completion — to the players, and this variation is known as "exquisite corpse by airmail", or "mail art," depending on whether the game travels by airmail or not.

The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau." ("The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine."


Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, M.Duchamp, Max Morise,
Cadavre Exquis, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, Max Morise.

Andre Breton
Poem-Object, 1935

Pierre Naville, the co-director of the magazine, came out soon afterwards with a categorical statement : 'No one remains unaware of the fact that there is no surrealist painting. It is clear that pencil marks resulting from chance gestures, a picture which sets down dream images, and imaginative fantasies can none of them be described as surrealist painting.' He went on to say that from now on the plastic arts would be replaced by shows, spectacles such as were provided by the cinema, by photography, or by the direct observation of street scenes. This negative attitude, a relic of the dadaist anathema of art, was justified by the passion that the surrealist group had for the cinema. Films like Nosferatu the Vampire and The Student of Prague were to be the models for a 'fascinating' style, which the surrealists considered that painting was not yet able to attain. Man Ray, who had made Return of Reason (Retour de la raison, 1923) on the same principle as his 'rayograms', said at this time : 'The cinema is a superior art which is worth all the others put together'.

The first group exhibition of surrealism in 1925 at the Galerie Pierre was not very representative. The exhibitors were Chirico, Klee, Arp, Ernst, Man Ray, Miro, Picasso, and Pierre Roy. This was a random collection and showed that although the movement knew what its aims in poetry were, its ideals in painting were still unstable. Klee's inclusion was a tribute to an artist who was not appreciated in France, but he was a surrealist neither in his Creative method nor in his beliefs. Picasso's presence was evidence of an interest which was to become active rather later. In the Manifeste, Breton confined himself to saying : 'Picasso is hunting in the environs'. Arp, Ernst and Man Ray had not entirely freed themselves from the dadaist spirit. Only Miro was genuinely representative of surrealism.

Pierre Roy, a friend of Apollinaire, had first been interested in fauvism, and had then flung himself into the evocation of 'everyday marvels'; he did minutely detailed pictures of collections of strange objects which raised calls to adventure or to dream like those evoked by a collection of random objects in an attic. His part in the movement was episodic, and he cannot be regarded as an artist who counted in surrealism. Giorgio de Chirico, the great painter of dreams, persisted in dashing the hopes of the group, who kept in constant contact with him, and who tried to turn him into a root-and-branch surrealist.

Pierre Roy


Pierre Roy
A Naturalist's Study

Surrealist painting owes a great deal to Chirico, whose example even led to people joining the movement. Max Ernst was influenced by him initially; Pierre Roy imitated him, or rather translated him into his own language; both Rene Magritte and Yves Tanguy received powerful creative impulses from his paintings. For his part, Chirico owed a great deal to the surrealists, although he always claimed with pride that neither his admirers nor his critics had ever understood his work. Had it not been for the revelatory illumination which surrealism cast on his fertile period from 1911 to 1918, this period would still be regarded as a part of 'metaphysical painting' (Pittura Metafisica), a loose concept made even more so by the tact that Carlo Carra and Giorgio Morandi gave it different meanings, and the importance of this period would have been diminished by his subsequent development. There are two men in Chirico : one whom the surrealists loved, and one whom they hated and fought against. They even thrust themselves between these two men so that the latter should not persist in distorting the message of the former.


Carlo Carra

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Feb. 11, 1881, Quargnento, Italy
died April 13, 1966, Milan

one of the most influential Italian painters of the first half of the 20th century, best known for his still lifes in the style of Metaphysical painting.

Carra studied painting briefly at the Brera academy in Milan but was largely self-taught. In 1909 he met the poet Filippo Marinetti and the artist Umberto Boccioni, who converted him to Futurism, an aesthetic movement that exalted patriotism, modern technology, dynamism, and speed. Carra's “The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli” (1911; Museum of Modern Art, New York City) shows the dynamic action, power, and violence characteristic of theFuturists.

With World War I the classic phase of Futurism ended and, although Carra's collage “Patriotic Celebration, Free Word Painting” (1914; Gianni Mattioli Foundation, Milan) is based on Futurist concepts, he soon began to paint in a style of greatly simplified realism. “Lot's Daughters” (1915), for example, is an attempt to recapture the solidity of form and the stillness of the 13th-century painter Giotto. This new style was crystallized in 1917 when he met the painter Giorgio De Chirico, who taught him to convey in his paintingsthe unsettling sense of life in everyday objects. Carra and De Chirico called their style pittura metafisica (“Metaphysical painting”), and their works of this period have a superficial similarity.

In 1918 Carrà broke with De Chirico and Metaphysical painting. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, he painted melancholy figurative works based on the monumental realism of the 15th-century Italian painter Masaccio. Through such moody but well-constructed works as “Morningby the Sea” (1928; Gianni Mattioli Foundation, Milan) and through his many years of teaching at the Milan Academy, he greatly influenced the course of Italian art between WorldWars I and II.

Carlo Carra
La Musa Metafisica

Giorgio Morandi
Still-Life with a Dummy, 1918

The Chirico whom the surrealists adored had all the poetic genius, the sarcastic humour, the intolerance and the sense of mystery which they expected of a master. His temperament was inherited. His father, a Sicilian engineer who lived in Greece, had an aristocratic temperament and had fought several pistol duels. His mother was romantically enough inclined to have had one of the bullets which had wounded her husband mounted in gold. After studying in Athens, Chirico left Greece with his mother and brother after his father's death in 1906, when he was eighteen. He went to Munich, where he became a student of art. He painted in the spirit of Bocklin, and read the German philosophers, particularly Nietzsche, who influenced him greatly. From 1909 to 1911 he divided his time between Milan and Florence, receiving impressions which were later to be the inspiration for his Places d'Italie.

Giorgio de Chirico
Place d'Italie

In 1911 he moved to Turin, and then to Paris, where he made himself known by showing three pictures in the Salon d'Automne, and painted desolate cities and arcades. He soon became a regular attender at Apollinaire's Saturday soirees. Apollinaire was at that time the only one to hail the innovation of his painting. In 1914, Paul Guillaume became the first dealer to buy his work and to give him any encouragement. Chirico turned out Enigmas in his Montparnasse studio. A clock, a statue seen from the rear, a furtive shadow, the empty spaces and the occupied spaces of a piece of architecture, were the simple elements from which he was able to compose eerie pictures. He began to produce combinations of objects, such as fragments of sculpture, gloves, artichokes and bananas, which took on a votive aspect. The Mannequins added their enigma to that of the cities. Uncannily, one painting showed Apollinaire with a target shape marking the fatal bullet wound of 1918.

He was recalled to Italy during the war, and lived in Ferrara from 1915 to 1918. There he met Carlo Carra, with whom he invented 'metaphysical painting', and created his Metaphysical interiors and his strange still-lifes with biscuits, matchboxes and set-squares. His colours became more intense, and his Mannequins more complex, as in The Disquieting Muses and Hector and Andromache (1917, Milan, Fondazione Gianni Mattioli). Sometimes he included a map or a trompe-l'ail picture of a factory in his interiors, thus creating a supplementary illusion. Chirico hated music, and jeered at music-lovers who would sit and listen for hours in a concert hall. He suggested that they should be made to spend a similar period of time examining a master painting through opera glasses. Any one of his works would have stood up to this kind of scrutiny; Chirico is the painter of silences. He describes the moment of waiting, where everything holds its breath and is transfixed before the arrival of some portent or some apparition. His universe stands on the threshold of the event. Its calm and harmonious lines conceal the alarm and curiosity aroused by what is to come.

At the time when the surrealists were hailing Chirico as a master, he was living in Rome and changing his style. 'I have been tormented by one problem for almost three years now - the problem of craftsmanship', he wrote to Breton in 1922. He began to copy Trecento and Quattrocento paintings, and to study ancient treatises. In the belief that oil was harmful to paint, he ground his own colours, filtered his own varnishes, and began to paint with a calculated slowness. To their dismay, Louis Aragon and Breton could find in this technician no trace of the great painter of inspiration who believed in ghosts, and who had once insisted, as they sat on a cafe terrace, that one of the customers actually was a ghost. They could see no trace of the cultivated man, full of paradoxes, who had said, grandiloquently: 'If a work of art is to be truly immortal, it must pass quite beyond the limits of the human world, without any sign of common sense and logic. In this way the work will draw nearer to dream and to the mind of a child.'

Although Chirico tried to recover his former inspiration in The Contemplator of the Infinite (1925, Paris, private collection), The Consoler (1926) and The Archaeologists (1928, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum), he never again reached the sublime state which he expressed so perfectly between the ages of twenty-three and thirty. The surrealists did not acknowledge the return of his genius until the appearance of his novel Hebdomeros in 1929. Hebdomeros is a wandering hero, moving at random in an indefinite city whose inhabitants pass their time in the 'construction of trophies'. When Hebdomeros stands at the window to contemplate the reality of the street, he discovers that 'It was still only the dream, and even a dream within the dream.... What we have to do is to discover, for by the act of discovery we make life possible, in the sense that we reconcile it with its mother, Eternity.' This proposition was in accord with surrealism, which was interested only in discovery to the exclusion of anything else, and which insisted, with Chirico, that painters should explore unknown worlds.

Giorgio de Chirico

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born July 10, 1888, Vólos, Greece
died Nov. 19, 1978, Rome, Italy

Italian painter who, with Carlo Carrà and Giorgio Morandi, founded the pittura metafisica style of painting (Metaphysical painting).

In 1906 de Chirico entered the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. His early style was influenced by the paintings of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger, which juxtapose the fantastic with the commonplace. By 1910 he was living in Florence, where he began painting a unique series of landscapes such as “The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon” (1910), in which the long, sinister, and illogical shadows cast by unseen objects onto empty city spaces contrast starkly with the bright, clear light, which is rendered in brooding green tonalities. Moving to Paris in 1911, de Chirico gained the admiration of Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire with his ambiguously ominous scenes of deserted piazzas with classical statues, dark arcades, and small, isolated figures overpowered by their own shadows and by severe, oppressive architecture. Such works are exemplified by “TheSoothsayer's Recompense” (1913) and “The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street” (1914).

At Ferrara, in 1915, de Chirico practiced a modification of his earlier manner, marked by more compact groupings of incongruous objects. In paintings of this period, such as the “Grand Metaphysical Interior” (1917) and “The Seer” (1915),the colours are brighter, and dressmakers' mannequins, draftsmen's compasses, biscuits, and paintings on easels assume a mysterious significance within enigmatic perspectival landscapes or interiors.

The element of mystery in de Chirico's paintings dwindled after 1919, when he became interested in the technical methods of the Italian classical tradition. He eventually began painting in a more realistic and academic style, and by the 1930s he had broken with his avant-garde colleagues and had disclaimed his earlier works. De Chirico's Metaphysical paintings exercised a profound influence on the painters of the Surrealist movement in the 1920s.

Giorgio de Chirico
The Disturbing Muses


The Surrealist movement was begun officially late in 1924 with the publication of Andre Breton's first Surrealist manifesto, but not without the intercession of several tumultuous years.

Paris Coalescence

With the end of World War I the Surrealists benefited from the gathering in Paris of those Dada artists earlier sequestered in isolated cities. The emergence of Surrealism can be viewed as a physical coalescence of the Dadaists. Picabia and Duchamp were in Paris in 1917 and 1919 with intermittent visits; Man Ray made a permanent move in 1921; Tzara moved in 1920, with Arp and Taeuber arriving the same year; Ernst followed from Cologne in 1922. In addition, the so-called School of Paris was an amalgam of pre- and postwar avant-garde movements. Until the worldwide Depression in 1929 it was a glorious and fateful period, and Breton was to be its maestro.

Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault, the founders in 1919 of the avant-garde magazine Litterature, had served in the war but had remained in contact with the vocal and active literary avant-garde figures in Paris. The more nihilistic figures—such as the enigmatic dandy Jacques Vache and the outrageous English artist-writer-dancer-boxer known as an American, Arthur Cravan— joined with the equally avant-garde but more moderate voices aligned before the war with the development of "modern" visual art, such as Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Andre Salmon, and Blaise Cendrars. This was a complex and volatile mix.

Although Dadaism was "officially" founded in Paris at the moment of Tristan Tzara's first public lecture in 1919, there was a "proto-Dadaist" movement already established. Taken as a unit and to momentarily ignore their differences, they maintained the idea of "a permanent revolt of the individual against art, against morality, against society." In the words of art historian and curator William Rubin, both Dadaism and Surrealism were heirs to something much broader, "a kind of creative activity already in the air" since about 1912.

The parallels and the divergences, which make a clear history so difficult to trace, were demonstrated at the 1917 performance of Apollinaire's play Les Mamelles de Tiresias ("The Breasts of Tiresias"), a farce already designed in the best of the avant-garde tradition to shock and provoke the sensibilities of the middle class. By this time Guillaume Apollinaire was one of the most important French poets and art critics of the early twentieth century. Serving and becoming wounded in the war, he had been the first to champion the work of emerging artists like Picasso and Matisse, was a friend of the Futurists, and was in fact the first to coin the word "surrealist," which appeared as the subtitle to his

Play-Yet the opening was "one-upped" by Jacques Vache, who, excited by the play, began waving a pistol. Threatening to fire it into the audience, he had to be forcibly stopped. This was a dada event before Dada, but equally significant is that the same "gesture" had been made several years earlier by Cravan—who had so insulted modern artists and Apollinaire that the latter challenged him to a duel. Breton, appropriating the story years later, used it unattributed to describe what it meant to possess a Surrealist sensibility.

Andre Breton

Developed in the 1930s by Breton, the poem-object combined images and text. Fragments of words and visual objects were sectioned off from one another, but intended to accidentally exert an influence on each other; a case of "reciprocal exaltation," wrote Breton.

From Dada to Surrealism

The group of young poets around Litterature aligned themselves with Dadaism by mid-1920 and participated in Dada manifestations or soirees and wrote Dada declarations—just as the movement imploded. Picabia publicly declared Dada dead in 1921 and attacked other Dadaists in 1922, including Tzara, because it had become too organized a movement. For the opposite reason, in 1922 Breton called for an international conference to lay out a program for the "modern spirit," a concept widely shared and variously defined across Paris at this time. Dada had brought them to this point but something more lucid, programmatic, and progressive was now needed. This departure from the anarchism of Dada marks the beginnings of Surrealism.

The conference was rejected publicly by many of the Dadaists, who called Breton to task for insulting them and Tzara. In revenge, Breton waylaid Tristan Tzara in public during a 1923 performance. A full-scale riot ensued and police action was brought against Breton. The lines were finally drawn and many have presented that night as the passing of leadership from Tzara to Breton. The word "surrealism" had been appropriated from Apollinaire, who never defined it, and put into circulation during 1921-23, as Breton and his colleagues began "crystallizing" the tenets of the movement. In October of 1924 Breton published his manifesto.

Rene Magritte
The False Mirror

The image of the closed eye became a secret sign among Surrealists for the subversion of reality by drawing on
interior states. Thus the image of the open eye, ordinarily interpreted as access between the individual and the
world, was a false vision or mirror. Reality lay elsewhere.


The Meaning of Breton's Surrealism

In the first manifesto Breton pointedly declared his definition of Surrealism to be different from that of Apollinaire's. What Breton ignored was the faction of more radical Dadaists who had already rejected Apollinaire and his love of art as too conservative. Breton's real genius was that of a politician. He laid claim to positions both more radical, like Vache, and more conservative, like Apollinaire, while ignoring his own differences with them. He felt his program for art differed from both positions and as a good promoter he knew one must herald newness rather than synthesis. Nevertheless, an important part of the Surrealist movement would always side with the more radical position and suspect "art" work as irrelevant; even Breton would argue against art in its traditional meaning.

Breton declared "surrealism" a "new mode of pure expression" and admitted they could have used the word su-pernaturalism just as easily. But he wanted a special sense of the word:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which we propose to express—verbally, in writing, or in any other manner—the real process of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason and outside any aesthetic or moral concerns.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to destroy definitively all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principle problems of life.

The definition was followed by Breton's list of writers and poets, essentially members of his own circle, who had already "performed acts of Absolute Surrealism." And immediately Breton began his lifelong cultural archaeology by listing those now past who could pass for Surrealists: Dante, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme, Vache, Рое, among others. However, these men could never be Surrealists at all times because they suffered from "preconceived ideas." Their great talents were, Breton suggests, perhaps lessened because they filtered their works in order to produce them. True Surrealists have no talent, he argued, thus they need no filters; they are able ideally to speak their own thoughts just as they have them. In fact, the best Surrealist is one who never stops long enough to record words at all since that would undo the pure "state," or channel that Breton demands in the identity of Surrealism. This means, as Breton would later try to show, that virtually anyone can be a Surrealist, if and when they develop this clear channel between thought and act. Indeed, the manifesto taken as a whole is an argument for the removal of those blocks, an argument to liberate human creativity in its fullest capacity.

The first manifesto argued for a poetic and not a visual form of Surrealism. Following the lead of the European avant-garde in general, Breton argued Surrealism as an aesthetics of liberation. He inverted the original Dada conception of life as insane to life as overly rationalized, but his solution differed only in degree. Both movements held faith in the creative act and moment, insisting on absolute freedom and on the site of art as the mind rather than in its physical form. The major difference was Breton's insistence on a systematic program and his public address to an audience over time. The Dada moment was an act not meant to survive; the audience could participate but merely in the carnage of the moment. The Surrealists claimed a concern for permanent change, or, to take a page from Leon Trotsky, the Russian political theorist later supported by Breton, the Surrealists wanted to establish a "permanent revolution." To sustain the concept of moment to moment revolution was their ultimate dream.

Yves Tanguy
The Storm

Tanguy's early works created a habitat for abstraction, a place where dismembered
elements of form took on a sense of life, appearing to be at home in a primordial soup.

The Psychoanalytic—My Way

A major point of separation between Dadaism and Surrealism was the Surrealists' enthusiastic embrace of the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Breton had studied medicine, served as an orderly in an army mental clinic during the war, and, in 1921, paid homage to Freud with a visit. Freud was flattered by the artists' professed belief in his work, especially since so little of it had reached France in translation, but overall the meeting was a bit of a disaster as Breton left without Freud's support. Freud considered the realm of the unconscious to be inaccessible except through the indirect method of dream analysis and apparently random associations. To him, easy or even direct access to the unconscious was impossible.

The influence of Freudian psychology was crucial and it is imbedded in the basic understanding and work of the Surrealist movement. But in reading Breton we are struck by his lack of particulars regarding psychology or Freud. He raised the issue of psychology in his 1924 manifesto as an area that provides an alternative to "living under the reign of logic" where only logical methods of description and analysis are applied to solving problems. Sounding more like a romantic symbolist from the late nineteenth century than a true modern supposedly knowledgeable in psychology, he argued the significance of fancy, imagination, and superstition.

Apparently what he had learned from Freud, whose name and general orientation to the importance of dreams he publicly praises, was simply that there were "strange forces" below the surface of our waking state, important forces we rarely admit into normal consciousness, and the key to them lies in the state of dreaming. He observed that not even the "analysts" have worked out all the means of investigation and application of this knowledge. And, in what is likely a veiled reference to his rebuff by Freud, Breton proclaims that this area can now be "the provinces of the poet as well as the scholar."

Breton did provide a powerful argument for the authority of artists and their creativity: They now equal the scientists, the Surrealists declared, and can lead the exploration into new areas and methods of investigation.

Andre Breton, Cadavre Exquis, Valentine Hugo, Greta Knutson and Tristan Tzara
Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse was the most famous of several games developed by the Surrealists.
It was a strategy of chance used to generate disjunctive images from collective participation.


Automatism, which is the free flow of associations, was to be the process or state of mental existence whereby control of reason was purposefully lost in favor of "the real process of thought." Most interpreters of Surrealism have accepted Breton's assertion that "pure psychic automatism" was the single most important principle of Surrealism. The Dadaists had spoken for the abolition of rationality and logic in favor of new art processes and forms developed through chance and irrational association. For the Surrealists, chance remained a valid external force, but because of their interest in psychiatry the automatic was equated with the unconscious in all its manifestations. In 1922 Breton wrote specifically of this state of psychic automatism as "a near equivalent to the dream state," a place where one could hear the "murmur" of the "unconscious." In 1919 he had recognized that fragmentary sentences emerged from unknown origins into his conscious perception when his mind was "in total solitude, when sleep is near." These fragments were "first-rate poetic material," and he and others began to contemplate how to induce such material into existence voluntarily.

At first he and Soupault practiced a purposeful forgetfulness of the outside world which produced their first "automatic" book in 1920, Les Champs magnetiques ("Magnetic Fields"), written in daily and disconnected fragments that Breton called "magical dictation." From this they moved to "periods of sleep," which was their form of the trance state mediums used when contacting spirits. The process was successful to varying degrees, depending upon the individuals involved. Robert Desnos was the most extreme in his ability to speak in poetic Alexandrines, twelve-syllable phrases correctly accented in rhyme, while "asleep." Hypnosis, a technique generally rejected by Freud, was used extensively with many of the results transcribed and published. The experiments among the Surrealist poets in hypnotic sleep were a general attempt to implement Freud's ideas and link them to the process of creativity, to open the doors of psychic perception. However, the Surrealists ignored the diagnostic and therapeutic particulars of psychoanalysis to create a synthesis that served their own ends and belief in poetic production.

Poets concentrated on speaking and writing automatically, i.e., by means which bypassed rational control. Some editing would occur after the fact. Visual artists such as Andre Masson sometimes used the same technique, premise, and editing. Masson's 1944 pen and ink drawing Bison on the Brink of a Chasm is one of many produced by a process of "automatic" drawing. The title seems to make an oblique reference to life lived in this state—as one may on the brink of a chasm. Both writers and visual artists also developed a number of other techniques to bypass control. Many, like Max Ernst, relied too on the principle of chance as developed in Dada.

Games, especially word games, and gamesmanship were popular among all the Surrealists for reasons of chance. Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and the New York circle of patrons were major exponents of such gaming well before the advent of Surrealism. Perhaps the best known Surrealist game was the one titled "exquisite corpse" (cadavres exquis), developed in 1925. Like many of their games it was designed for group participation and relied on the chance encounter as a disruption of rationality and a product of the shared, oceanic unconscious in which the Surrealists believed. Each player would write a word on a section of paper, then fold it so the next player could not see what had been created. The next player had to add to it. The game began with words but was immediately adapted to images or combinations of words and images.

Many a Surrealist painting was born from the juxtaposition of such disjunctive images. A phrase—celebrated among Surrealists—borrowed from the nineteenth-century Symbolist poet Lautreamont (Isidore Ducasse) summarized the desire for an entire aesthetic based on disjunction and displacement: "The chance encounter of a sewing machine and umbrella on an ironing board." The image seemingly makes no sense and is the more frustrating or disjunctive simply because it decontextualizes normal objects in the world. Their reliance on elements of disjunction and displacement, first developed with Cubist collage of 1912, then modified by the Dadaists, had intriguing parallels to many of Freud's theories of psychological mechanisms. It also led to the marvelous.

Andre Masson
Bison on the Brink of a Chasm

Few were as adept at the transformations of automatic drawing as Masson,
prompting Breton to praise him with Goethe's phrase, "What is within is also without."

The Marvelous

Introduced in the first manifesto, the concept of the marvelous grew in importance if not in clarity for Breton over the years. Scholar of Surrealism Hal Foster has argued that the marvelous eventually replaced automatism as the basic principle of Surrealism. The 1924 understanding of Surrealism was defined as a resolution of the states of dream and reality into "a sort of absolute reality, a surreality" This rare state, one considered natural in children before they are weaned from it, Breton calls by another name—the marvelous.

As the Surrealists came to value more greatly internal necessity or compulsion over choice, the marvelous became a state of possession. It visited you or you sensed its possession of another. The marvelous and beauty could now be restricted to that which was compulsive.

Jackson Pollock
One (Number 31, 1950)

The automatism of Surrealism and a belief in primal psychic forces are at the fore in Pollock's mature style,
which shifts away from the earlier, more raw mythology of Masson and the Surrealists.

The Crisis in Consciousness: Politics & Mysticism

Politics, from a Dadaist viewpoint, was simply one more rational system contributing to the general cultural insanity and thus to be rejected. There was to be liberation, but for the individual soul and moment. The Surrealists began with a Dada-like position, then developed a more systematic and engaged attitude to politics. But also typical of the Surrealists, everything was filtered through Breton and his own desire to maintain a coherent movement, even if it meant equivocation in the face of demands for resoluteness.

From automatism, a liberation in physical fact was assumed to follow. This claim has been made by many avant-garde movements and often remains the case today. Few movements supported direct or overt alliances with politics. This was certainly the position of the Surrealists until about 1929. Their first consistent journal, La Revolution surrealiste ("Surrealist Revolution"), published from 1924 until 1929, was in sympathy with the political left, especially the Russian Revolution carried off under the banner of Marxism, but not its overt action. By 1929 their position became a self-proclaimed "crisis of consciousness."

The relation between art for itself (what Ernst called the pursuit of pure Surrealist activity) and politics was precipitated by personal battles of power, French injustices against indigenous peoples in Morocco, and Joseph Stalin's 1929 exile of the Russian revolutionist and writer Leon Trotsky, whom Breton greatly admired. In a conference called in 1930 by Breton to form a unified response, the many factions broke with his leadership. This led to a second manifesto for Surrealism and a purification of the movement, with Breton excommunicating those who held positions different from his own. But, as usual, his position was equivocal and ignored its own contradictions. Of course, as he clearly noted, a good Surrealist knows no contradictions.

In 1929 Breton attacked the move of colleagues into direct alignment with the Communist Party. Then he exiled some of those who believed too strongly in art for its own sake and aligned the movement with the French Communist Party—only to move Surrealism away from it by 1934. The Second Manifesto in 1929 distanced itself from automatism and discussed the inadequacies of dreams. Surrealism would no longer use art for an "alibi" but push toward a philosophy of political commitment. The new journal would not be simply the "Surrealist Revolution" but now, in 1930, labeled "Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution" (Le Surrealisme аu service de la revolution). Yet at the same time Breton introduced the "occult," adopted the language of alchemy, and endorsed a mystical stance, all of which are antithetical to direct political action. This, however, did set the tone for later Surrealism to explore the mystery of the unseen, and of the strange, uncanny power of inanimate objects. Also at this time Louis Aragon, speaking for the Breton wing, publicly introduced the importance of love for the Surrealists.

Breton's authoritarian tactics and equivocations were met by published counter-attacks of him as a "false revolutionary" and a second group of Surrealists, aligned with Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille, among others, split off. Breton had already attacked Bataille with great venom for supporting extreme concepts which Breton considered pathological, separating them from an overriding ethics. Later, the Bataille circle of Surrealism was to produce some of the most dramatic and controversial forms whose "limits" remain a debated topic today. Overall, the ranks of the Surrealist movement were pruned, but simultaneously several new and important members joined up as the life of Surrealism entered a second, more international phase.

Salvador Dali
The Great Masturbator

The Great Masturbator became an independent character in Dali's paintings and writings. The central image of the profile head is that of Dali; the closed eyes place the figure in the unconscious. The grasshopper is a self-referential representation of a displaced childhood fear of being eaten, a sublimated fear allied to sex.



Max Ernst
At the Rendezvous of Friends
Seated from left to right: Rene Crevel, Max Ernst, Dostoyevsky, Theodore Fraenkel, Jean Paulhan, Benjamin Peret, Johannes T. Baargeld, Robert Desnos. Standing: Philippe Soupault, Jean Arp, Max Morise, Raphael, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, Giorgio de Chirico, Gala Eluard

Surrealism and painting

When he published Le Surrealisme et la peinture in 1928, Andre Breton's intention was to give a decisive answer to those who still doubted the existence of surrealist painting, or who did not fully realize what freedoms it should claim for itself. He immediately broadened the debate and carried it into the field of mental adventure. 'I find it impossible to think of a picture save as a window, and my first concern about a window is to find out what it looks out on. . . and there is nothing I love so much as something which stretches away from me out of sight.' In unambiguous language he urged painters no longer to draw their inspiration from reality, even from a transfigured reality. 'Because they believed that man is able only to reproduce a more or less felicitous image of the object which concerns him, painters have been far too conciliatory in their choice of models. Their mistake has been to believe either that a model could be derived only from the exterior world, or that it could be derived from there at all. ... This is an unforgivable abdication. ... If the plastic arts are to meet the need for a complete revision of real values, a need on which all minds today are agreed, they must therefore either seek a purely interior model or cease to exist.'

To establish what this 'interior model' was, Breton defined 'the attitude of some men who have genuinely rediscovered the reason for painting'. These were Picasso, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Miro, Tanguy, Arp, Picabia, Man Ray : in other words the first pioneers of the surrealist plastic arts. He casually rejected Matisse and Derain, 'old lions, discouraged and discouraging', and Braque, 'a great refugee', because they attached too much importance to what they saw. 'To see or to hear is nothing. To recognize (or not to recognize) is everything.... What I love includes what I love to recognize and what I love not to recognize. I believe that surrealism has raised itself up to the conception of this most fervent of all relationships, and has abided by it.'

Max Ernst was the only one of these painters to have taken a real part in the formation of surrealism. Shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1922, he painted At the Rendezvous of Friends (Hamburg, private collection), which showed the Litterature group after the dissolution of Dada. Ernst's qualities of inspired imagination, full of ferocity and humour, had always led him to take pleasure in cultivating visions of the half-sleeping, half-waking state. As a child he had seen in the pattern of a mahogany panel in his bedroom 'a huge bird's head with thick black hair'. When he was a young man, he sometimes saw, as he fell asleep, a transparent woman standing at the toot of his bed. She wore a red robe, and her skeleton showed through like filigree work. These faculties for seeing visions led to his invention in 1919 of collage, a technique vastly different from the papiers colle's which had been done by others before him.

Max Ernst

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born April 2, 1891, Brühl, Ger.
died April 1, 1976, Paris, Fr.

German painter, sculptor, one of the leading advocates of irrationality in art, and an originator of the Automatism movement of Surrealism. His youthful interests were psychiatry andphilosophy, but he abandoned his studies at the University of Bonn for painting.

After serving in the German army during World War I, Ernst was converted to Dada (q.v.), a nihilistic art movement, and formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne; with the artist-poet Jean Arp, he edited journals and created a scandal by staging a Dada exhibit in a public rest room. More important, however, were his Dada collages and photomontages, such as “Here Everything Is Still Floating” (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made from cutout photographs of insects, fish, and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identity of the things depicted.

In 1922 Ernst moved to Paris, where, two years later, he became a founding member of the Surrealists, a group of artists and writers whose work grew out of fantasies evoked from the unconscious. To stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind, Ernst began in 1925 to use the techniques of frottage (pencil rubbings of such things as wood grain, fabric, or leaves) and decalcomania (the technique of transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together). Contemplating the accidental patterns and textures resulting from these techniques, he allowed free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (“Histoire naturelle,” 1926) and in many paintings such as “The Great Forest” (1927) and “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1945). These vast, swamplike landscapes stem ultimately from the tradition of nature mysticism of the German Romantics.

After 1934 Ernst's activities centred increasingly on sculpture, using improvised techniques in this medium just as he had in painting. “Oedipus II” (1934), for example, was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.

At the outbreak of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States, where he joined his third wife, the collector and gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim, and his son, the American painter Jimmy Ernst. While living on Long Island, N.Y., and after 1946 in Sedona, Ariz. (with his fourth wife, the Americanpainter Dorothea Tanning), he concentrated on such sculptures as “The King Playing with the Queen” (1944), which shows African influence. After his return to France in 1949, his work became less experimental: he spent much time perfecting his modeling technique in traditional sculptural materials.

Ernst began by using figures clipped from illustrated catalogues, and moved on to 'the alchemy of the visual image', working on a principle which he defined as 'the exploitation of the chance meeting of two remote realities on a plane unsuitable to them'. Paintings like Edipus Rex (1921, Paris, Hersaint collection), The Revolution by Night (1923, London, Roland Penrose collection) and Men shall know nothing of it (1923, London, Tate Gallery) were built up in the same way as his collages. In Two children are threatened by a nightingale (1924, New York, Museum of Modern Art), his painting,even included some real objects fastened to the canvas : a bell push and a little door. It was with some justice that he was able to say : 'If plumes make plumage, it is not glue (colle) that makes collage.'


Max Ernst
Two children are threatened by a nightingale

His pictorial work would have been limited had it not been for his discovery of frottage, which gave him a means of self-liberation. On 10 August 1925, in a seaside inn, he was seized by an obsession with the grooves in the graining of the floorboards. He placed a piece of paper on the boards and rubbed it with blacklead so as to obtain a tracing. And from this tracing an image arose whose shape became clear to him. Frottages suggested to him forests, pampas, hordes of animals, heads. He brought these together in his collection Histoire Naturelle published in Paris in 1926. From this time on he regarded frottage as 'the true equivalent of what we already know as automatic writing . He made frottages from all sorts of materials as well as from floorboards : the leaves of trees, the unwound thread from a spool, the ragged edges or a piece of cloth. He also used this technique in painting, by scraping a canvas thickly covered in wet paint, or by placing it on a rough surface. He justified this technique by saying : 'The artist is a spectator, indifferent or impassioned, at the birth of his work, and observes the phases of its development.' Whatever the justification, what he gained from the use of this technique in paintings such as The Bride of the Wind (1926), and Carnal delight complicated by visual representations (1931), moved him towards the materialization of the imaginary, which liberated his paintings from the imitation of his collages. The 'artist as spectator' theme reappears in a purely painterly variation on the Virgin and Child theme which is one of his most famous (or notorious) works.

One spring day in 1924, Andre Breton visited the studio of Andre Masson at 45 Rue Blomet. He had just bought Masson's picture The Four Elements, and wanted to meet the painter. Masson has admitted : 'There have been few men whose first impression on me has been one which compelled such respect.' After their conversation, Masson immediately went over to surrealism. He was twenty-eight, and he was the focal point of a group which included Michel Leiris, Antonin Artaud, Armand Salacrou and Georges Limbour. As a result of a serious war wound he had been under observation in psychiatric hospitals, and he was now in permanent revolt against society. He had a lively and intelligent mind, which had been nourished on Nietzsche, Heraclitus and the German romantics. He wanted to create in order to explain the universe, and tried to put 'a philosophy into a picture'. No one painted with more violence, more fury even, than Masson, for he used every possible method to invoke a state of trance. He used also what were known as 'support words' : while he worked he would say aloud words like 'attraction', 'transmutation', 'fall', whirling'. At other times he sang. It one of his canvases failed to satisfy him, he flung himself at it and slashed savagely with a knife. 'One must get some physical idea of revolution', he told his friends. His disorder and anarchy became legendary. He earned his living by working at night as a proof-reader on the Journal Officiel. He filled himself with sleeping drugs and strong stimulants, which shattered his nerves.

Andre Masson

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 4, 1896, Balagny, Oise,Fr.
died Oct. 28, 1987, Paris

In full André-aimé-rené Masson noted French Surrealist painter and graphic artist.

Masson studied painting in Brussels and then in Paris. He fought in World War I and was severely wounded. He joined the emergent Surrealist group in the mid-1920s after one of his paintings had attracted the attention of the movement's leader, André Breton. Masson soon became the foremost practitioner of automatic writing, which, when applied to drawing, was a form of spontaneous composition intended to express impulses and images arising directly from the unconscious. Masson's paintings and drawings from the late 1920s and the '30s are turbulent, suggestive renderings of scenes of violence, eroticism, and physical metamorphosis. A natural draftsman, he used sinuous, expressive lines to delineate biomorphic forms that border on the totally abstract. Masson lived in Spain from 1934 to 1936 and in the United States during World War II. His work was the subject of major retrospective exhibitions in Basel, Switz, (1950) and New York City (1976).

From 1925 on, his automatic drawings showed the power of his outbursts of passion. His paintings, obsessed by two themes, the sun and the destiny of animals, expressed the tragedy of natural instincts in the form of myth. When he was painting Horses devouring the birds, he announced wildly : 'I will make the birds bleed'. He tried to give this immolation the feeling of an antique sacrifice. As painting did not allow him enough freedom, in 1927 he began making pictures with sand. The gesture with which he scattered the sand over a glue-coated canvas, and added a flashing brushstroke, amounted to a ritual. He began to introduce materials such as feathers into his paintings. When he parted company with the surrealists, from 1929 to 1936, his development did not change for the worse. He went, on in a similar spirit, intensified by his friendship with the philosopher Georges Bataille, to his series of Massacres and Abattoirs (1931), for which he made sketches in the slaughterhouses at La Villette and Vaugirard. His painting took on a multiplicity of forms - some dealt with the theme of abduction and pursuit, others evoked a journey he made on foot to Spain in 1934, yet others described insect revels, or burst out into scenes of delirium, the best example of which is In the Tower of Sleep (1938), or surrealistically explored the human figure. All had the same aim, a fervent desire to give a carnal presence to the sensation of the Cosmos. But above all, Masson drew. He drew tirelessly : series which made up chronicles, such as his Mythologies (1936), magnificent drawings in which eroticism, cruelty and sacred dedication reach a scale of epic grandeur. Some of Masson's paintings may be disappointing; his drawings never. He is a passionate interpreter of the metamorphoses of Nature, the paroxysms of Being.

Andre Masson
The Tower of Sleep

Joan Miro had the studio next to Masson in the Rue Blomet. Masson's virulence encouraged Miro's cautious and meticulous development. Miro had said of the cubists : 'I will break their guitar'. Since his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1918, he had constantly exerted pressure on reality, in the landscapes, portraits, nudes and still-lifes of what has been called his detailliste period. After paintings like The Farm (1921-2) and The Ear of Corn (1923, New York, Museum of Modern Art), he felt that he had come to a dead end. Then in the summer of 1923, when he was on one of his visits to his family at Montroig, he began to paint Ploughed land (Philadelphia, H. Clifford collection). Suddenly reality yielded place to the imaginary - the pine tree opened its eyes and cocked an ear, animals began to look like plants and seashells.

At the time that his style was changing, he wrote to his friend Ratols : 'I confess that I am often gripped by panic, the kind of panic that is felt by an explorer travelling through virgin territory'. He confided to Rafols his desire 'to express precisely all the golden sparks of our soul'. This tendency is accentuated still further in Olee (1924), and particularly in The Carnival of Harlequin (1924, Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery). This is an extraordinary fancy-dress ball, where not only human beings, but also animals and everyday objects, are wearing masks. An entire landscape has put on a disguise. Then Miro asked Masson : 'Should I go to see Picabia or Breton?' Masson replied without hesitation : 'Picabia is already the past. Breton will be the future.'

Miro's exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in June 1925 was an official surrealist event. The invitation was signed by all the members of the group, and the preface to the catalogue was written by Benjamin Peret. The private view took place at midnight, and was a great success.

From this time on, Miro began to play. He played a wild, distracted game with signs which he scattered on monochrome backgrounds of grey, blue or white. A dotted line and a blob were enough for him to create astonishing effects, as in Head of Catalan Peasant (1925), Person throwing a stone at a bird (1925, New York, Museum of Modern Art), The Grasshopper (1926), Dog howling at the moon (1926). Although he claimed to want to 'murder painting', in his case this would have had to be a crime passionel, for no painter has ever produced his work with greater love than Miro. He painted as naturally as a flower blossoms. He used all materials and techniques with equal virtuosity. He painted on black paper, on glass paper, on card, on wood, on sacking, on copper, on masonite. He used egg tempera, pastel colour, either powdered or mixed with indian ink ; he made poem-pictures, picture-objects, drawing-collages and wooden constructions. He produced stunning parodies of old pictures; his three Dutch interiors, painted in 1928, are interpretations of pictures he had seen in Holland, such as The Cat's Dancing Lesson by Jan Steen. Various Imaginary portraits (1929) include a Portrait of a Lady in 1820, after Constable. In 1934 he began his 'wild paintings which make monsters arise'. Breton wrote : 'He could pass for the most 'surrealist' of us all'. Until 1937, when he went through a short crisis which drove him to paint from life at the Grande Chaumiere, and to paint the apocalyptic Still-life with old shoe (James Thrall Soby collection), it was always Miro who created the finest fireworks of surrealism.

Joan Miro
Dutch Interior I

Joan Miro

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born April 20, 1893, Barcelona, Spain
died Dec. 25, 1983, Palma, Majorca, Spain

Catalan artist, one of the foremost exponents of abstract art and Surrealist fantasy. The influence of Paul Klee is apparent in his “dream pictures” and “imaginary landscapes” of the late 1920s. His mature style evolved from the tension between thisfanciful, poetic impulse and his vision of the harshness of modern life. He worked extensively in lithography and produced numerous murals, tapestries, and sculptures for public spaces.
Miró's father was a watchmaker and goldsmith. Both the artisan tradition and the austere Catalan landscape were of great importance to his art.
Miró's artistic development did not progress with the directness of his countryman Picasso, who could draw like a master while still a boy. Instead of being allowed to go to an art school, Miró was expected to complete high school, though he failed to do so. He then attended a commercial college and worked for two years as a clerk in an office, until he had a mental and physical breakdown. His parents took him for convalescence to an estate, Montroig, near Tarragona, which they bought especially for this purpose, and finally allowed him to attend an art school in Barcelona. His teacher at this school, Francisco Galí, showed a great understanding of his 18-year-old pupil, advising him to touchthe objects he was about to draw, a procedure that strengthened Miró's feeling for the spatial quality of objects. Galí also introduced his pupil to examples of the latest schools of modern art from Paris as well as to the buildings of Antonio Gaudí, Barcelona's famous Art Nouveau architect.

Whereas artists of the contemporary Fauve and Cubist schools deliberately attempted to destroy the canons of tradition in order to attain a new kind of pristine vision, Miró possessed such a vision naturally. In his paintings and drawings he sought above all to establish means of metaphorical expression—that is, to discover signs that stand for concepts of nature in a transcendent, poetic sense. He wanted to depict nature as it would be depicted by a primitive man or a child equipped with the intelligence of a 20th-century adult; in this respect, he had much in common with the Surrealists and Dadaists, two other schools of modern artists who were striving to achieve similar aims by more intellectual means than Miró used. Miró's art developedslowly from his first clumsy attempts at expression to the apparently playful masterpieces of his later period. His fanatical honesty and his conscientious craftsmanship compelled him to work on many of his pictures for years.
From 1915 to 1919 Miró worked in Barcelona, at Montroig, and on Majorca, painting landscapes, portraits, and nudes in which his interest centred on the rhythmic interplay of volumes and areas of colour. His colours were still dark and heavy, though he delineated details as if superimposing on aheavy earthly ground a filigree of luminous leaves and blossoms. His manner was the same in landscapes, portraits,and nudes.
Miró was one of the many artists who made their way from abroad to Paris during the first two decades of the 20th century and enriched French painting, which was to influencethe art of the whole world. Most of these foreign artists elected to become Frenchmen after coming into contact with the French artistic metropolis, but Miró remained attached tohis Catalan homeland, in his choice both of dwelling places and of subjects for his pictures.

From 1919 onward Miró lived alternately in Spain and Paris. In the paintings he produced in the period between World Wars I and II—the great still lifes, landscapes, and phantasmagorias set free from both space and time—he gradually removed the objects he portrayed from their natural context and reassembled them as if in accordance with a new, mysterious grammar, creating a ghostly, eerie impression.
From 1925 to 1928, under the influence of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Paul Klee, he painted “dream pictures” and “imaginary landscapes” in which the linear configurations and patches of colour look almost as though they were set down randomly. After a trip to The Netherlands, where he studied the 17th-century Dutch realist painters in the museums, the figurative elements in his pictures once more assumed a firmer shape. But, when a tendency toward beautiful, tasteful forms emerged in his works, he countered it with more brutal signs, collages, and objects made up of the waste products of industry.
By the 1930s Miró's artistic horizons were expanding. He designed decor for ballets. His paintings began to be exhibited regularly in French and American galleries. In 1934he designed tapestries, and that led to an interest in the monumental and in murals.
At the time of the Spanish political turmoil and Civil War in the late 1930s, Miró was living in Paris. In their demonic expressiveness, his pictures of this period mirrored the fearsand horrors of those years. At the Paris World Exhibition of 1937, he painted for the pavilion of the Spanish Republic a mural, “The Reaper,” containing a strong element of social criticism.

During World War II Miró returned to Spain, where he painted his “Constellations,” a series of small works that constitute symbols of the happy collaboration of everything creative, of the elements and the cosmos. They represent a challenge to the anonymous powers of corruption in social and politicallife, the cause of misery and wars. During the last year of the war, Miró, together with his potter friend Artigas, produced ceramics that revealed a new impetuosity of expression.

From 1948 onward he once more divided his time between Spain and Paris. That year saw the start of the series of very poetic works the symbols of which were based on the theme of woman, bird, and star. Pictures wildly spontaneous in character came into being alongside others whose forms were executed with punctilious craftsmanship. Both approaches were also combined in Miró's sculptures; in themall his earlier figurations were happily amalgamated to form erotic fetishes or signals towering into space.
In the years following World War II, Miró became world famous; his sculptures, drawings, and paintings were exhibited in many countries. In 1950 he painted a wall for Harvard University. His ceramic experiments were crowned by the great ceramic wall in the UNESCO building in Paris (1958), for which he received the Great International Prize of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 1962 Paris honoured him with the first major exhibition of his collected works in the National Museum of Modern Art. The architect José Luis Sert built for him on Majorca the large studio of which he had dreamed all his life. Among his later works were several monumental sculptures, such as those executed for Chicago and for Houston, Texas. In 1980, in conjunction with his receipt of Spain's Gold Medal of Fine Arts, a plaza in Madrid was named in Miró's honour.

In spite of his fame, however, Miró continued to devote himself exclusively to looking and creating. A taciturn, introverted man of short stature, Miró had not found it easy to attain the wisdom permeated by irony that ultimately characterized his work. From his youth, he had felt compelledby an almost anarchic obstinacy to keep his eyes firmly fixed on his goal despite the resistance he met from society or from the prevailing artistic theories. His late works manifest an even greater simplification of figure and background than his early ones. In order to realize his inner visions, it had become enough for Miró to set down a dot and a sensitive line on a sea-blue surface; in this the spectator could still find himself in a state of total enchantment. His early works anticipated the representational techniques of his later style; thus, although the former playful or aggressive irony gave way to a quasi-religious meditation, all of his works form a coherent whole manifested by a common quality of rejuvenation and deepening.

Walter Erben

Joan Miro
Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird

It has been said that Pablo Picasso was influenced by Miro's example. Strictly speaking, Picasso had no surrealist period; but there are several periods in which his development approaches surrealism. Breton considered that Picasso first showed a real interest in surrealism in 1926; in Le Surrealisme et la peinture, he took Picasso as the supreme guide. 'If surrealism ever comes to adopt a line of moral conduct, it has only to accept the discipline that Picasso has accepted and will continue to accept. In saying this, I am setting very severe standards.'

Indeed, the surrealists regarded Picasso's period of 'analytical cubism', which included paintings like The Accordeon Player (1911, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), as the beginning of a new form of vision. Paul Eluard wrote : 'After perpetual wanderings through dark or dazzling rooms, the irrational took its first rational step with Picasso's paintings, which have been given the derisory label of ''cubist"; that first step was at last a raison d'etre.' La Revolution Surrealiste reproduced one of his pen drawings made up of dots connected by lines. His Dinard period in 1928 and 1929, his 'Bathers (c. 1930), like prehistoric apparitions, his metal Constructions of 1930-1, and his sand reliefs of 1933, bear witness to the close links which bound him to the surrealist family.

Yves Tanguy, who at the time claimed to be more a surrealist than a painter, had spent his childhood at Locronan, in the far west of Brittany, and had been to sea as a cadet in the Merchant Navy. He was a melancholic character, in search of amusement and excitement, and his sea-inspired dreams of adventure, his memories or the Breton beaches, and his Celtic background were the reasons which prompted his escape into the marvellous. In Paris, Tanguy shared quarters with Jacques Prevert and Maurice Duhamel at 54 Rue du Chateau in Montparnasse, which has become a legend because of the fantasy which reigned there.

Tanguy started by doing humorous drawings which he exhibited in 1924 with the Montmartre illustrators Gus Bota, Chas Laborde, Daragnes and Vertes. His first painting was of the wall of the Sante prison, done in the manner of Chirico. He had caught a glimpse of a Chirico painting in a gallery window from the platform of a bus, and had been dazzled by it. He met Robert Desnos in 1925, and was introduced by him into the surrealist group. In 1926 he painted The Storm (Philadelphia, Museum of Art), and then Genesis. The works of this initial period, which are very different from the later style for which he is known, describe fluid, airy spaces where imponderable elements are suspended in the air. Goblins appear and disappear in a troubled atmosphere, a circle of mad sprites forms in the invisible.

He came back to earth with such works as The Promontory Palace (1930, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim collection). In this, and in such later paintings as Infinite divisibility (1942) and The Rapidity of Sleep (1945), he travelled to a shore where strange minerals held council, and where horizons which awoke a sense of the infinite receded before the eyes. He painted like a sleepwalker, allowing the growth of images which were made even more mysterious by the fact that he never felt any need to explain them even to himself. His titles, which he often asked his friends to suggest, are not commentaries on the paintings. Without wishing to be so, Tanguy was the Watteau of surrealism ; his pictures are 'Conversations' and 'fetes galantes' in which inanimate forms take on the roles of men and women who have gathered together for the pleasures of the dream.

Yves Tanguy

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 5, 1900, Paris, France
died Jan. 15, 1955, Waterbury, Conn., U.S.

French-born American painter who made a highly individual contribution to Surrealism.

After sailing with the merchant marine in his youth, Tanguy in 1922 returned to Paris, where he lived a Bohemian life andsearched for a vocation. In 1923 a painting by Giorgio de Chirico that he saw in an art gallery made such a strong impression on him that he immediately took up painting. He joined the Surrealists in 1925, and he subsequently participated in all the Surrealists' major exhibitions. He visited the United States in 1939 and settled there, becominga U.S. citizen in 1948.

Though he had no formal art training, Tanguy had found his own unique style of painting by 1927. His paintings depict groups of strange, unidentifiable objects that resemble marine invertebrates or sculpturesque rock formations. These ambiguous forms are painted with smooth, painstaking detail and are set in barren, brightly lit landscapes that have an infinite horizon and a timeless, dreamlike quality. After Tanguy resettled in the United States, the objects in his paintings took on a more metallic appearance. Tanguy's eerie and illogical paintings made himthe artist most faithful to Surrealist precepts.

Yves Tanguy
The Storm


In 1925 Arp came to Paris and moved into a studio in the Cite des Fusains, 22 Rue Tourlaque, where among his neighbours were Max Ernst, Paul Eluard, and later Miro. He began to write poems in French ; previously he had written in Alsatian or German. Arp was a man of lively wit and a beautifully precise inventive sense. When he was a child, he had painted the lower part of his window panes blue, so that the houses that he looked out on would seem to be floating in the sky. On another occasion he cut a rectangular hole through the wall of a wooden hut, and put a picture frame round it. Then he invited his father to come and admire the 'landscape' he had created ; the opening looked out on a rural scene. During the Dada period, his objects set the public by the ears. There was the Glove (le Gant), which was a hat intended to be worn by the Gantleman, not on, but in place of, his head; there was the Navel Bottle, a monstrous household object. Arp brought to surrealism the grace of his carved and painted wood reliefs - Painted wood, Semi-Colon, Endless Moustache, Configuration.

In 1926 he left Paris and set up house at Meudon with Sophie Taeuber. He went over completely to sculpture, and built up a repertoire of 'cosmic shapes' (the egg, breasts, the human head, the bell, and so on) which he used in his Concretions. In 1931 he showed his papiers decbires at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. These combined the lessons of abstract art with the demands of surrealism. Although he was a member of the 'Abstraction-Creation' group, Arp's mental agility always allowed him to reconcile non-figurative art with plastic poetry. In his view, it was the artist's task to produce fruit, like a tree. To define the aims which drove him on, he once said : To wanted to find a new order, a new value for man in nature. Man should no longer be the standard against which everything is measured, nor should he relate everything to his own stature. On the contrary, all things and man should be like nature, and not have any standard scale.'

Jean Arp

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born September 16, 1887, Strassburg, Germany [now Strasbourg, France]
died June 7, 1966, Basel, Switzerland

Also called Hans Arp French sculptor, painter, and poet who was one of the leaders of the European avant-garde in the arts during the first half of the 20th century.

First trained as an artist in his native Strasbourg, he later studied in Weimar, Germany, and at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1912 he went to Munich, where, through his friend Wassily Kandinsky, he became briefly associated with Der Blaue Reiter. He returned to Paris in 1914 and became acquainted with the artists Modigliani, Picasso, and Robert Delaunay, as well as with the writer Max Jacob. During World War I he took refuge in Zürich, where he became one of the founders of the Dada movement. It was there that he produced his first painted reliefs. After the war he lived in Germany until 1924, when he and his wife, the artist Sophie Taeuber, whom he had married in 1921, settled near Paris in the town of Meudon. During the 1920s he was associated with the Surrealists, and in 1930 he was a member of the Cercle et Carré group. This was also theyear in which he made his first papiers déchirés (“torn papers”). In 1931 he participated in the Abstraction-Créationmovement. During World War II he again went to live in Zürich, where his wife died in 1943. While in Switzerland he did his first papiers froissés (“crumpled papers”). After the war Arp returned to Meudon, where he continued his experiments with abstract form and colour and wrote poetry. Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories by Jean Arp (1972) and Arp's Collected French Writings (1974) were edited by MarcelJean.

Jean Arp
Enak's Tears (Terrestrial Forms)

Georges Malkine (1898-1970) was not mentioned in Le Surrealisme et la peinture, despite the fact that he had been a member of the 'heroic wave'. La Revolution surrealiste published his drawn stories, his drawing Ecstasy, and his painting The Valley of Chevreuse. He was a friend of Robert Desnos, and illustrated his The Night of Loveless Nights. Malkine had an inventive mind which was supported by a kind of pictorial sensuality. But he was little concerned to make a career in art, being too absorbed by the vicissitudes of his life, which led him into a strange mixture of trades : violinist, photographer, street vendor of neckties, actor, fairground hand, proof-reader. Claude-Andre Puget, who had known him since his youth, said of him : 'His was the only genuinely surrealist existence I have known.' In 1927 Malkine's exhibition at the Galerie Surrealiste was a great success. Shortly afterwards he left for the South Seas, where he travelled for three years. He was able to get back to France only by working his passage as a dishwasher. He began to paint again in 1930 and continued until 1933, when he stopped. He did not resume painting until he went to live in America in 1949. His work has retained a vein of surrealist fantasy, as his 1966 tribute to the composer Satie (a kindred spirit) shows.

Georges Malkine
La visite

Although the Galerie Surrealiste had been inaugurated, on 26 March 1926, with an exhibition of paintings by Man Ray, Breton pays greater tribute in his book to Man Ray the photographer than to Man Ray the painter. Indeed, Man Ray is above all the man who revolutionized photography by transforming it into a poetic means of investigating the world. As his pictures failed to sell, Man Ray began to practise photography to earn a living - he had combined this activity with painting for a long time previously. In 1921 he invented 'rayograms', which made phantoms of objects appear. He has described the technique : 'This is the principle of the rayogram, which is sometimes, in my view erroneously, called a photogram. Various objects, whatever one wishes, are placed in the dark on a sheet of light-sensitive paper. This combination is then illuminated by a ray of light. The objects placed on the paper protect the sensitive surface, and so do the shadows they cast, to a degree which depends on the intensity of the shadow. When the paper exposed in this way is developed, the rayogram appears as white silhouettes and incredibly delicately graduated shadows. The effect is absolutely unique to this kind of technique.' Man Ray made rayograms with wash-tongs, drawing pins, salt, and all kinds of items.

Apart from these experiments, he took fashion pictures for the couturier Paul Poiret, did portrait photographs, and made reproductions of avant-garde works. He worked in a hotel room with rudimentary equipment. Indeed, he affected scorn for elaborate cameras and for technical skill. He wanted to photograph ideas rather than things, and dreams rather than ideas. He had no interest in landscapes : 'I think that rather than taking banal representations of a view, it is better to take my handkerchief from my pocket, twist it as I want, and photograph it as I wish.' He used the close-up at a time when most photographers never dreamed of doing so.

The Marquise Casati was most enthusiastic about a photograph he had done of her showing her with two pairs of eyes; she declared that he had taken a portrait of her soul. From that time on, Man Ray found himself with an aristocratic clientele, and was able to set himself up in a studio. His portraits are given a kind of inner treatment - that of James Joyce, taken at a moment when the sitter was dazzled by the lights, is a demonstration of the art of giving full value to the sensitive part of the face. Man Ray began to do nudes in 1925, first of his girl-friend Kiki de Montparnasse, and then with many amateur models. He used all processes - for example solarization, which allows the values of cast shadows to be inverted - to give flesh a dream-like aureole. He treated the female body in the same way as Duchamp made a readymade. He used some personal detail to make each different from all the others. His portrait of Meret Oppenheim, naked, with one raised arm covered in black ink, behind the wheel of an etching press, is justly famous for this reason. His films, like Starfish (Etoile de mer, 1928), where instead of blurred outlines he aimed at a frosted glass effect, pushed his photographic successes one stage further. One of his paintings, more than eight feet wide, Observatory Time, the lovers (1932-4, New York, William N. Copley collection), shows a giant mouth floating in the sky above the Jardin du Luxembourg. A symbol : for Man Ray, photography was a kiss given by Time to Light.

Man Ray

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born August 27, 1890, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
died November 18, 1976, Paris, France

original name Emmanuel Radnitzkyphotographer, painter, and filmmaker who was the only American to play a major role in both the Dada and Surrealist movements.

The son of an artist and photographer, he grew up in New York City, where he studied architecture, engineering, and art, and became a painter. As early as 1911, he took up the pseudonym of Man Ray. As a young man, he was a regular visitor to Alfred Stieglitz's “291” gallery, where he was exposed to current art trends and earned an early appreciation for photography. In 1915 Man Ray met the French artist Marcel Duchamp, and together they collaborated on many inventions and formed the New York group of Dada artists. Like Duchamp, Man Ray began to produce ready-mades, commercially manufactured objects that he designated as works of art. Among his best-known ready-mades is The Gift (1921), a flatiron with a row of tacks glued to the bottom.

In 1921 Man Ray moved to Paris and became associated with the Parisian Dadaand Surrealist circles of artists and writers.Inspired by the liberation promoted by these groups, he experimented with many media. His experiments with photography included rediscovering how to make “cameraless” pictures, or photograms, which he called rayographs . He made them by placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper, which he exposed tolight and developed. In 1922 a book of his collected rayographs, Les Champs délicieux (“The Delightful Fields”), was published, with an introduction by the influential Dada artist Tristan Tzara, who admired the enigmatic quality of Man Ray's images. In 1929 Man Ray alsoexperimented with the technique called solarization, which renders part of a photographic image negative and part positive by exposing a print or negative to a flash of light during development. He was one of the first artists to use theprocess, known since the 1840s, for aesthetic purposes.

Man Ray also pursued fashion and portrait photography and made a virtually complete photographic record of the celebrities of Parisian cultural life during the 1920s and '30s. Many of his photographs were published in magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Vu, and Vogue. He continued his experiments with photography through the genre of portraiture; for example, he gave one sitter three pairs of eyes, and in Violon d'Ingres (1924) he photographically superimposed sound holes, or f holes, onto the photograph of the back of a female nude, making the woman's body resemble that of a violin. He also continued to produce ready-mades. One, a metronome with a photograph of an eyefixed to the pendulum, was called Object to Be Destroyed (1923)—which it was by anti-Dada rioters in 1957.

Man Ray also made films. In one short film, Le Retour à la raison (1923; Return to Reason), he applied the rayograph technique to motion-picture film, making patterns with salt, pepper, tacks, and pins. His other films include Anémic cinéma (1926; in collaboration with Duchamp) and L'Étoile de mer (1928–29; “Star of the Sea”), which is considered a Surrealist classic.

In 1940 Man Ray escaped the German occupation of Paris by moving to Los Angeles. Returning to Paris in 1946, he continued to paint and experiment until his death. His autobiography, Self-Portrait, was published in 1963 (reprinted 1999).

Finally, in the catalogue for an exhibition of collages which was held in March 1930 at the Galerie Goemans, 49 Rue de Seine, Aragon wrote an essay called La Peinture аu deft, a seminal text in which he vigorously reproached painting for having become an 'anodine entertainment', and expressed his preference for collage, which seemed to him to be the ideal way of passing beyond the preoccupations of matter, subject and decoration. 'It substitutes a method of expression of hitherto unimagined strength and scope for a debased art form. ... It restores a genuine meaning to the old pictorial demands by preventing the painter from falling prey to narcissism, to art for art's sake, by bringing him back to the magical practices - the origins of, and the justification for, plastic representations - which many religions have forbidden.' In collage Aragon saw the possibility of an assault on reality by a subversive form of the marvellous, using elements borrowed from reality with the sole purpose of being used against it. This attitude shows the kind of hope which collage engendered in the surrealist group. All of them saw it as a weapon directed against everyday banalities, against the spirit of the serious.

Poets as well as painters made collages : Georges Hugnet, E.L.T. Mesens and Jacques Prevert were among them. But none of them surpassed Max Ernst, who, in his picture books, La Femme 100 Tetes (1929), Reve d'une petite fille qui voulut entrer аи Carmel (1930) and Une Semaine de Bonte on les sept Elements Capitaux (1934), unravels stories with a multiplicity of twists and turns which derive their validity from the beliefs they reflect. 'Collage is a supersensitive and scrupulously accurate instrument, similar to a seismograph, which is able to record the exact amount of the possibility of human happiness at any period', said Max Ernst. His visual novels form a fantastic mythology whose hero is Loplop, 'Superior of the Birds', one of the best of his hallucinatory fantasies. One consequence of collage was that surrealist paintings of this period took on the form of painted collages : those of Emile Savitry, before he went over to photography, are an example. Even Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali, when they were starting their careers, made the content of their paintings conform to that of collages.

Man Ray


Baron, Queneau, Breton, Boiffard, de Chirico, Vitrac, Eluard, Soupault, Desnos, Aragon.
Naville, Simone Collinet-Breton, Morise, Marie-Louise Soupault.

Towards a revolutionary art

From 1930 onwards surrealist art became more harsh, more violent, and more impatient to influence social life. It was now aware of its methods, of its powers to disturb and to seduce, which it wished to force to serve entirely positive ends. The previous year the movement had been shaken by a crisis brought on by disagreements about the meaning of its adhesion to Marxism, a perennial question which had been first raised in 1926. Antonin Artaud had been the first to protest against surrealism's political preoccupations, when in his pamphlet A la grande Nuit (1927) he matched against them 'the point of view of consistent pessimism'. Later the group separated from part of its membership, whom Breton branded with a red hot iron in his Second Manifeste du surrealisme (1929). 'What could people who still have some concern about the position they occupy in the world hope to gain from the surrealist experience?' he wrote scornfully. The target he indicated to his friends was revolution; dialectical materialism now played the part which had previously been taken by psychoanalysis.

The surrealists wanted to help in the advancement of the proletariat and in the destruction of capitalist society; but they were not prepared to sacrifice any part of their basic preoccupation. The review Le Surrealisme аu service de la Revolution, which was their organ at this time (1930-3), raised the problems of social agitation only in connection with that of finding a way for the ideal expression of the passions. In his role of militant activist, Breton acted as a true apostle, trying to persuade organizations of the Left that true revolutionary art was not simply the art which made the most of a propaganda content, but an art which took human desires into account with audacity and originality. In the lectures he delivered and the interviews he gave, this is a constantly recurring idea. In La Position politique du Surrealisme (1935) he writes : 'Artistic imagination must remain free. It is by definition free from any fidelity to circumstances, especially to the intoxicating circumstances of history. The work of art must remain detached from any kind of practical aim, if it is not to cease to be itself. . . . We put forward, in opposition to painting with a social subject, painting whose latent content is revolutionary, whatever the subject expressed. We stress the fact that today this form of painting can derive its elements only from pure mental representation, inasmuch as this extends beyond true perception, without being confused with hallucination.'
While in public Breton was defending the rights of the artist, he urged his friends not to give way to any desire to please; the Second Manifeste is firm on this point. 'The approval of the public must be avoided above all. The public must be forbidden to enter if confusion is to be avoided. I would add that the public must be held exasperated at the door by a system of taunts and provocations.'

If ever anyone was qualified to follow this advice, and to take it to its ultimate conclusion, it was Salvador Dali. He was later to declare : 'Le surre'alisme, c'est тоi'. Certainly, before he became the popularizer of surrealism, Dali breathed a new dynamism into the movement. From the other point of view, had Dali not had the framework, the propitious climate which the group offered him, his personality would not have developed with so much brilliance.

Initially his eccentricity was nothing more than that of a spoilt child. His father was a lawyer from Figueras who put all his hopes in him, and nothing was spared in the encouragement of his precocious vocation. An uncle from Barcelona gave him a king's costume; wearing his crown and his ermine cloak in the wash-house he used as a studio, Dali gloried in the idea that everything was permitted him. He went to the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1921, and became known for his extravagant clothes and his stubborn insistence on doing the opposite of what everyone else was doing. For this he became the hero of a group of 'ultraist' students, who included Federico Garcia Lorca, Luis Bunuel, and Kugcnio Montes. He was expelled from the school for protesting against the appointment of a professor, and even imprisoned for a few weeks. When he was released he became even more wild. But his dandysme led him only to futile actions, like soaking banknotes in whisky, and his painting was merely a series of stylistic exercises ranging from futurism to cubism.

Luis Bunuel

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Feb. 22, 1900, Calanda, Spain
died July 29, 1983, Mexico City

Spanish director and filmmaker, noted especially for his early Surrealist films and for his work in the Mexican commercial cinema. He is distinguished for his highly personal style and controversial obsession with social injustice, religious excess, gratuitous cruelty, and eroticism.

Bunuel was born in northeastern Spain, the eldest of seven children. From his father, Leonardo Bunuel, a businessman, who had left home at the age of 14 to join the army and fight in Cuba in the Spanish-American War (1898), Luis inherited an adventurous spirit. He excelled at school, in Zaragoza, spending only his holidays in his hometown. He was good at sports, such as boxing, and also played the violin well. He attended a Jesuit college in Zaragoza, until at 17 he entered the University of Madrid, where he became a friend of the painter Salvador Dalí and the poet Federico García Lorca. In 1920 Bunuel founded the first Spanish movie club and wrote critiques of the films shown there.

Having discovered Freudian psychoanalysis and having broken away from religion, he went to Paris in 1925 and entered film-producing circles, feeling that film would become his true medium of expression. In 1926 he became an assistant director, and in 1928 he directed his first picture, Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog ), in collaboration with Dalí. It created a sensation: at a time whemovies tended to be dominated by the natural and the literal, Buñuel discovered the cinema of instinct, which issued through him from the Surrealist movement.

His next two films—L'Age d'or (1930; The Golden Age), a radically anticlerical and antibourgeois film made in France, and Las Hurdes (1932; Land Without Bread), a documentary about a particularly wretched region of Spain—asserted his concern with the freedom to dream and to imagine, his revolutionary attitude toward social problems, his aggressive sense of humour, and his rejection of traditional logic.

In Spain, Bunuel acted as producer of a number of commercial films in an attempt to build a native industry. When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936 he volunteered to the Republican government in Paris, and in 1938, he acted asa technical adviser for two Hollywood films about the Spanish Republic. In the United States, he experienced his greatest difficulties. He did some film editing and worked briefly for the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, until it became known that he had directed the atheistic L'Age d'or, and he was allegedly forced to resign. In 1947 he settled in Mexico with his wife and two sons.

There his career was reinvigorated; he directed two pictures designed to have box-office appeal, into which he introducedone or two freely creative sequences. The success of one of these, El gran calavera (1949; The Great Madcap), allowed him to make a personal film, Los olvidados (1950; The Youngand the Damned). This fascinating and sympathetic study of slum youths reestablished his reputation as a director of note.

Bunuel exercised more and more freedom in allowing the “free” sequences to invade otherwise conventional films, and his own blasphemous but tender world reappeared more often. Soon all his films, even those imposed upon him by producers, such as Robinson Crusoe (1952), rendered the Bunuelian universe—a dreamland in which strange and unwonted happenings occur. Poetry is combined with an aggressiveness, born of tenderness, in his work. His great films from this Mexican period include Ensayo de un crimen (1955; The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz) and Nazarín (1958), about an unworldly priest.

In 1960 Bunuel was allowed to return to Spain to make Viridiana (1961); the Spanish authorities, however, found the completed film to be anticlerical and tried to suppress it. Nonetheless, it was smuggled out to be shown at the Cannes Festival, where it was awarded the top prize. In 1962, in Mexico, he made another major work, El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), about a formal dinner party from which the guests find themselves powerless to depart; it too was interpreted as having powerful anticlerical connotations.

By then acclaimed throughout the world, Buñuel was again free to make films as he chose, as he had not been since his first period in France. His next film, Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (1964; The Diary of a Chambermaid), was his most overtly political film, wherein the turn-of-the-century story of the decadent French aristocracy is updated and transformed into a metaphor for the growth of Fascism. The 42-minute Simón del desierto (1965; Simon of the Desert), concerning the temptations of anchorite Simeon Stylites, and Belle de jour (1967), about the fantasies of a middle-class woman, though quite different in narrative, explore some of the central themes in Bunuel's work.

His better known, later films—including Tristana (1970), Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1973; The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977; That Obscure Object of Desire)—also reflect Buñuel's concern with dream and reality, the confusion of true and false, the untrustworthiness of the foundations of social structure, and the nature of obsession itself. His autobiography, My Last Sigh (originally published in French), was published in 1983.


Probably the most controversial of filmmakers, Bunuel owed his fame to his absolute sincerity. Ignoring fashions and conventions, he pursued his career in his native Spain, in France, in the United States, and in Mexico for more than a half century, mostly working within the limitations of the film industry. Yet, no other filmmaker has been more personal, more frank in expressing his own obsessions as evidently in his first film as in his last.

Ado Kyrou

Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel; Un Chien andalou; L'age d'or (The Golden Age)


With Blood is sweeter than honey (1927), he began to get some idea of what his future style would be. In 1928 he travelled to Paris, where he met Miro, who introduced him to the surrealists, and who abandoned his usual silence long enough to say to him : 'The important thing in life is to be stubborn. When what I want to say in a picture won't come out, I bang my head against the wall until the blood flows.'

When he returned to his family's house at Cadaques in 1929, Dali set out to paint a picture which would be a kind of manifesto. He set up his easel at the foot of his bed so that he would have the image before his eyes as he fell asleep and as he awoke. At this time he had a visit from a surrealist delegation - the dealer Camille Goemans, Rene Magritte, Paul Eluard and his wife Gala. They were taken aback by his appearance - he was wearing an imitation pearl necklace, a bracelet, and a shirt with flowing sleeves - by his sudden outbursts of hysterical laughter, and by the scatological violence of his picture, whose principal figure was a man in shit-stained underpants. Eluard gave this painting the title of Le Jen lugubre (The Dismal Sport) ; it was Dali's first step, at the age of twenty-five, along the road of surrealism. There and then was forged the union between Dali and Gala which was to have so great an influence on his art, because she was able to prevent his worst fantasies from becoming morbid. She made him write, and herself put in order, the notes which he compiled for the composition of La Femme visible (1930); these notes contained the earliest exposition of his 'paranoiac-critical method'. This constant vigilance was the reason for the way he worshipped her, going as far as signing his pictures with their two names interwoven, and saying : 'Every good painter who aspires to the creation of genuine masterpieces should first of all marry my wife.'

After his Paris exhibition in 1929 at the Galerie Goemans, Dali wanted to go further than his fellow surrealists. Eternally contradictory, he wanted to be more than everything : madder than a lunatic, more noble than an aristocrat, more academic than the most conventional of painters, more refined than a sybarite, and so on. So he became more surrealist than the surrealists, and sowed paradoxes in their very beliefs. Dali was the product of a synthesis of everything the movement had acquired, but his determination to 'cretinize' the public (a reminder of Dada), his 'cannibalism' (a reminder of Picabia), and his appeal for bad taste (a reminder of Breton's statement 'I force myself to go further than anyone else in the bad taste of the age'), acquired transcendent power because of his fanatical egocentricity. He brought to surrealism not only a hyperbolic imagination, not only a pictorial technique which had been developed by frenetically hard work, but also his gift for savorous overstatement and his gift for solemn clowning. He became the protagonist of a tragicomedy of art, in which his actions and his gestures contributed to the emotional charge of his painting.

When Breton and Eluard wrote L'Immaculee Conception in 1930, they set out to demonstrate that the mind could put every known form of madness to work in the cause of poetry. Dali invented the 'paranoiac-critical method', and showed that an artist could obtain spectacular results by the controlled and lucid simulation of mental disease. Paranoia is an interpretative disorder with a rational basis, which, if skilfully mastered by the painter, will allow him to reveal the double significance of things. Thanks to this 'spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative critical association of phenomena which lead to delirium', the painter will act and think as if under the influence of a psychic disorder, while remaining fully aware of what is going on. The act of painting has no further function save that of using a perfected trompe-l'ail technique to make the images of this organized delirium unforgettable. It is from this that Dali derives his definition of painting : 'photography (by hand and in colour) of concrete irrationality and of the imaginary world in general'.

Dali was a Renaissance man converted to psychoanalysis. In The Invisible Alan (1529), the first picture in which he used a double image, the man in this case being also a woman at the same time, The Great Masturbator (1929), Dancers, lion, horse... invisible (1930), Birth of liquid desires (1932), and Persistence of Memory (193 1, New York, Museum of Modern Art), where time is abolished by the famous 'soft watches', Dali took a delight in painting what he called the 'psychic anamorph', defined thus : 'The instantaneous reconstitution of the desire by its refraction in a cycle of memories. Example : the instantaneous reconstitution of the desire of thirst by its refraction in a cycle of masochistic memories'.

This method, which was the art of cultivating phantasms, made so great an impression only because the phantasms were genuine. Dali put on to canvas his panic tear of grasshoppers, his phobia of the void, his perverse eroticism, and his nostalgia for inter-uterine existence. He tore off the mask which reason puts on reality, and behind it discovered a soft world which was subsiding or decomposing, and which had to be propped up on enormous crutches. His dramatic break with his father, whom he compared with William Tell, is the reason for the baroque melodrama of The Old Age of William Tell (1931, Paris, Marie-Laure de Noailles collection), and The Enigma of William Tell (1933-4). The obsession with food which drove him to paint Gala with two raw cutlets on her shoulders gives an authentic flavour to paintings like The Weaning of the Furniture Food (1934, Cleveland, Л. Reynolds Morse collection), in which he espies through an opening in the body of his nurse the piece of furniture containing the feeding bottle, and The Ghost of Vermeer van Delft, which can be used as a table (1934, ibid.).

Apart from writing the scenarios of the films Un Chien Andalou (1928) and U Age d'Or (1930), which were marked also by the kindred genius of his friend Luis Bunuel, Dali was also poet, librettist, sculptor, theoretician, dress-designer, window-dresser and organizer of carnivals. The accumulation of his 'imperialist' paradoxes, which were such as to falsify the ideas of surrealism, and his commercial opportunism, led to his break with the group in 1939, but this did not stop Dali from continuing to be a surrealist. He went to live in California, where he painted some magnificent compositions like Geopolitical Child observing the birth of the New Alan (1943, Cleveland, A. Reynolds Morse collection), and Dream caused by the flight of a bee round a pomegranate a second before waking (1944). The painting which indicates the official end of his surrealist career is the Apotheosis of Homer (1945), in which he tried to give expression to 'the visual sensations of the blind'. Even so, in the 'mystic' period which followed, constant reterences to the past can still be made out. Dali has perhaps had a more coherent evolution than any of the other surrealist painters.

Salvador Dali

Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born May 11, 1904, Figueras, Spain
died Jan. 23, 1989, Figueras

In full Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí Y Domenech Spanish Surrealistpainter and printmaker, influential for his explorations of subconscious imagery.

As an art student in Madrid and Barcelona, Dalí assimilated a vast number of artistic styles and displayedunusual technical facility as a painter. It was not until the late 1920s, however, that two events brought about the development of his mature artistic style: his discovery of Sigmund Freud's writings on the erotic significance of subconscious imagery, and his affiliation with the Paris Surrealists, a group of artists and writers who sought to establish the “greater reality” of man's subconscious over his reason. To bring up images from his subconscious mind, Dalí began to induce hallucinatory states in himself by a process he described as “paranoiac critical.”

Once Dalí hit on this method, his painting style matured with extraordinary rapidity, and from 1929 to 1937 he produced the paintings which made him the world's best-known Surrealist artist. He depicted a dream world in which commonplace objects are juxtaposed, deformed, or otherwise metamorphosed in a bizarre and irrational fashion.Dalí portrayed these objects in meticulous, almost painfully realistic detail and usually placed them within bleak, sunlit landscapes that were reminiscent of his Catalonian homeland. Perhaps the most famous of these enigmatic images is “The Persistence of Memory” (1931), in which limp, melting watches rest in an eerily calm landscape. With the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, Dalí also made two Surrealistic films—Un Chien andalou (1928; An Andalusian Dog ) and L'Âge d'or (1930; The Golden Age)—that are similarly filled with grotesque but highly suggestive images.

In the late 1930s Dalí switched to painting in a more academic style under the influence of the Renaissance painter Raphael, and as a consequence he was expelled from the Surrealist movement. Thereafter he spent much of his time designing theatre sets, interiors of fashionable shops, and jewelry, as well as exhibiting his genius for flamboyant self-promotional stunts in the United States, where he lived from 1940 to 1955. In the period from 1950 to 1970 Dalí painted many works with religious themes, though he continued to explore erotic subjects, to represent childhood memories, and to use themes centring on his wife, Gala. Notwithstanding their technical accomplishments, these later paintings are not as highly regarded as the artist's earlier works. The most interesting and revealing of Dalí's books is The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942–44).

Salvador Dali
The Ghost of Vermeer van Delft, which can be used as a table

Alberto Giacometti brought into surrealism the resentment and anxiety of a betrayed lover. He had wanted to embrace reality in his art, and reality had become inaccessible to him. Giacometti was the son of one of the best Swiss post-impressionist painters, and painted and sculpted a number of portraits from life before he came to Paris in 1922. Until 1925 he studied under Emile-Antoine Bourdelle at the Grande Chaumiere; but he found it gradually more and more impossible to translate the external world into sculpture; he called on his imagination to supply the deficiencies of the model. Up to 1928, under the influence of Laurens, Arp and primitive masks, he made 'flat sculptures', two - dimensional heads and figures, which were followed by 'open sculptures', such as Sleeping Woman who dreams (1929). He came into the surrealist group in 1930, the year when he exhibited sculpture-objects with Miro and Arp at the Galerie Pierre. As he could not live from sales of his work, at this period he and his brother Diego worked for Jean-Michel Franck, an interior designer for whom they made all kinds of utilitarian objects such as light fittings, lamps, wall brackets and so on. Giacometti's surrealist period included a series of 'affective' sculptures which gave concrete form to definite feelings of aggression or anguish.

He visualized each work complete in his mind, and once this vision was formulated, he executed it usually without changing anything, sometimes in no more than a day. Sometimes he made objects, like Suspended ball or the Hour of Traces (1930), Circuit (1931, Paris, Henrictte Gomes collection), Pointe a l'ail (1931) and sometimes plastic images like Caress (1932), N0 more play (1932), The Palace at 4 a.m. (1932, New York, Museum of Modern Art), The Surrealist Table (1933, Paris, Musee National d'Art Moderne), and The Invisible Object (1934-5).

In 1935 Giacometti moved away from the surrealists and took up sculpture from life again. Throughout the years he tirelessly made and remade studies of heads, working from his brother Diego and his model Rita. He was never satisfied, and while he worked on a piece it gradually grew smaller and smaller, seeming to melt or shrink. It was as if he were trying to find a nugget of pure reality by stripping off successive wrappings from the work. Quite often a sculpture which he had intended to be on a large scale ended up so small that it would fit into a matchbox.

Giacometti, photograph by Gartier Bresson

Alberto Giacometti

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Oct. 10, 1901, Borgonovo, Switz.
died Jan. 11, 1966, Chur

Swiss sculptor and painter, best known for his attenuated sculptures of solitary figures. Notable works include “Head of a Man on a Rod” (1947) and “Composition with Seven Figures and a Head (The Forest)” (1950). His work has been compared to that of the existentialists in literature; in 1963 Giacometti designed the set for Samuel Beckett's drama Waiting for Godot .
Giacometti displayed precocious talent and was much encouraged by his father, Giovanni, a Postimpressionist painter, andby his godfather, Cuno Amiet, a Fauvist painter. He spent a happy childhood in the nearby village of Stampa, to which hereturned regularly until his death. His brother Diego became known as a furniture designer and shared Giacometti's life as his model and aide. Another brother, Bruno, became an architect.
Giacometti left secondary school in Schiers in 1919 and then went to Geneva, where he attended art classes during the winter of 1919–20. After a time in Venice and Padua (May 1920), he went to Florence and Rome (fall 1920–summer 1921), where rich collections of Egyptian art taught him that the impact of ancient and primitive hieratic styles—which adhere to fixed, conventional types and frontal or rigid figures—could be used as an equivalent for the force of reality.
Between 1922 and 1925 Giacometti studied at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière in Paris. Although he owed much to his teacher, Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, his style was very different. It was related to the Cubist sculpture of Alexander Archipenko and Raymond Duchamp-Villon and to the Post-Cubist sculpture of Henri Laurens and Jacques Lipchitz. An example is “Torso” (1925). He was also inspired by African and Oceanic art, as in “The Spoon-Woman” (1926). His first important personal achievements were flat, slablike sculptures, such as “Observing Head” (1927/28), which soon made him popular among the Paris avant-garde.

Any resemblance to reality had been abandoned in the period 1925–29, when he created mannered figures, such as “Cubist Composition” (1926) and “Three Figures Outdoors” (1929). The trend continued in the period 1930–32, in works in which emotions and erotic themes were given Surrealist sculptural form (“Suspended Ball” and “The Palace at 4 A.M.”). In 1933–34 Giacometti attempted metaphorical compositions using the themes of life and death (“The Invisible Object” and “1 + 1 = 3”). At this time he was disturbed by the thought that his serious works of art had as little reference to reality as the merely decorative vases andlamps that he made to earn a living. Breaking definitely with the Surrealist group in 1935, he began to work after nature again; what had started as mere studies became a lifelong adventure: the phenomenological approach to reality—that is, the search for the given reality in what one sees when oneis looking at a person.

Around 1940 Giacometti arrived at matchstick-sized sculptures: figures and heads seen frontally as ungraspable appearances of reality far away in space. Around 1947 his massless, weightless image of reality was expressed in a skeletal style, with figures thin as beanstalks. From 1947 to 1950 he did compositions related to his work of the early 1930s—“Tall Figures”; “City Square”; “Composition with Seven Figures and a Head (The Forest)”; and “Chariot”—and rapidly became known, especially in the United States, through two exhibitions (1948 and 1950) at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City and an essay on his art by the French existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre.
The evolution of his art continued, taking the form of a search for ways to challenge, actually to equal, reality in sculpture as well as in painting. For Giacometti an artwork was to become an almost magical evocation of reality in an imaginary space, as in heads of Diego and figures after his wife Annette (1952–58), executed like apparitions on gray canvases or on space-delimiting bases. The artwork also hadto be invested with the power of acting on the spectator like a double of reality in real space, as in portraits of Caroline or Elie Lotar, his models and friends in the last years (1958–65), which are heads and busts gazing intently and made only with lines of force, without contour lines or surfaces. At this point the phenomenological approach was superseded; he felt that reality was no longer dependent on being perceived by someone; reality simply was. Like the characters of Beckett's novels and plays his figures represented a worldview in which space and time have their origin in the core of each being. Giacometti died of an inflammatory heart condition, without having carried out the final composition of the work he had been concerned with since the early 1930s, the metaphor of the totality of life.
Giacometti was one of the outstanding artists of the 20th century. At a time when avant-garde artists aimed at rendering nonfigurative or expressive qualities rather than achieving resemblance to reality, he worked for the unattainable goal of equaling reality by rendering a portrait—whether drawing, painting, or sculpture—so that it would be perceived by the spectator with the impact it would have were it a living person. To do this he introduced into the art of sculpture a new concept of rendering distance. Massless and weightless, his figures and heads are immediately seen from a specific frontal point of view and therefore perceived as situated in distance and space.
Giacometti had such intellectual integrity—for example, living in a shabby studio in Montparnasse even after fame and fortune had reached him—that he became for his contemporaries, especially those of the postwar generation, an almost legendary figure during his lifetime.

The Art Gallery (Kunsthaus) in Zürich and the Beyeler Gallery in Basel, Switz., have the most comprehensive collections of Giacometti's sculpture (on loan from the Alberto Giacometti Foundation). Other important collections are in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and in the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul, Fr.

Reinhold D. Hohl

Alberto Giacometti
Woman with Her Throat Cut

During this period of revolutionary preoccupations, which Breton called the 'period of preparation', surrealism underwent a brilliant return to pictorial automatism. One of those responsible was Oscar Dominguez, who invented 'decalcomania without preconceived object'. Dominguez was a native of Tenerife, and in 1933 he had had an exhibition there which he had described as surrealist, although he had never met a member of the group. He did not come into contact with them until 1934, in Paris, and when he did, he became a redoubtable figure.

Every one of his pictures revolved round a shock idea, like an advertising poster (he had formerly been a poster artist). For example, in The Hunter (1934), he showed a bird imprisoned in a hand-shaped cage. In 1935 he did his first 'decalcomania', by laying a sheet or paper on top of another covered in black gouache, rubbing at random with the hand, and separating the sheets when almost dry. This technique, which allowed him to create fantastic landscapes, was greatly appreciated by his entourage, among whom it was widely used. Dominguez also invented 'litho-chronism' or 'solidification of time', a form or sculpture which involved wrapping, to form a bundle, one or more three-dimensional bodies. It one placed a typewriter and some ornament together, and then wrapped them in stretch material, this latter would become a 'lithochronic surface'. Dominguez' imagination was fertile in this kind of discovery, but he too often wasted his possibilities. He painted his best pictures just before the war, when he went through a 'cosmic' period - Nostalgia for Space (1939) and The Memory of the Future - and evoked extra-terrestrial landscapes with crazy vegetation. His 'concrete irrationality' - as in Los Porrones (1935) - is less savage than Dali's.

Oscar Dominguez

Oscar Dominguez
Los Perrones

Wolfgang Paalen, who also played a part in the revival of automatism, had a fine, meditative mind, rather given to philosophical speculations. He had been born in Vienna, and had spent his youth travelling in Austria, Germany and Italy. He settled in Paris in 1928, and belonged first to the Abstraction-Creation group. He joined the surrealists in 1935, and presented them with a 'new method of forcing inspiration': fumage. This process involved the interpretation of marks left on a surface by a candle flame, and Paalen used it in the composition of handsome nocturnes showing phantom-like beings in murky landscapes (Battle of the Saturnian Princes, 1938).

Wolfgang Paalen
Battle of the Saturnian Princes

Paalen had theories about the 'super-conscious', a state of ecstasy which he felt that surrealism should encourage. He said 'The super-conscious, beyond the unconscious and the conscious, is the third rang of the ladder of intellectual behaviour'. He cut himself off from the surrealists for a time because he disagreed with their analysis of Hegel's thought, and because he believed they failed to attach enough importance to Einstein and to modern physics; but after he had founded the ephemeral 'Dynaton' movement in Mexico, he returned to surrealism, which he enriched by new experiments in what he called 'multi-dimensional space'.

Victor Brauner,
Yves Tanguy
and Jacques Herold
Exquisite Corpse

Andre Breton was delighted by the arrival on the scene of Victor Brauner, who was brought into the surrealist circle in 1933 by his friends Giacometti and Tanguy. Breton immediately recognized in him the kind of painter he had been appealing for since the Second Manifests, and wrote a vibrant preface highly praising the works that Brauner exhibited at the Galerie Pierre in 1934. Brauner was Romanian, and ever since his first exhibition held in Bucharest in 1924, when he was twenty-one, he had shown an acute sense of the fantastic image. One of his pictures, Leisures, showed men playing football with their own heads. When he arrived in Paris in 1930, he immediately set about studying every possible transformation of the human face. He painted canvases divided into multiple compartments, and showed in each a different metamorphosis of a being : Morphology of man (1933); The Strange Case of Monsieur K. (1933).

One of the strange things about him was his preoccupation with mutilation of the eyes. He had painted a self-portrait in 1931 in which he showed himself with one eye crushed and his cheek covered in blood. He never knew what made him paint this picture in this way. He subsequently painted figures with horns coming out of their eyes, and others who looked in despair at an eye which had been plucked out. In The hast Journey (1937), a man sits sadly on a giant eye, while a monster rushes away with another eye clutched in its fingers. On 27 August 1938, at a studio party, Brauner tried to separate two friends who were quarrelling, and was struck in the face by a bottle thrown by Dominguez. His left eye was put out. Everyone was stupefied, and felt that Brauner had announced years ago that this accident was going to happen — the more so since in 1932, in Mediterranean landscape, and in 1935, in Magic of the seashore, he had shown himself with his eye pierced by an instrument with the letter D, Dominguez' initial, on its handle. Never had the surrealist idea of the mediumistic 'message' been as conclusively vindicated as in Brauner's case. Every one of his paintings was a message which had matured in the light of his presentiments.

Victor Brauner
Self-portrait with a plucked eye

Victor Brauner
The Surrealist

After this event, which revealed to him his powers of clairvoyance, Victor Brauner's painting changed, left the realm of cruel satire, and turned towards the universe of magic. He delved into the spirit of witches' spells, and studied the treatises of Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus. After the hypnotic paintings of his 'period of Chimaeras' with their mysterious apparitions in the dusk (such as The Inner Life, 1939), he began to make extraordinary pictures in wax, which expressed abstruse, hermetic myths with a conviction and eloquence which had rarely been achieved before him by other artists who shared his interest in the occult.

Victor Brauner
Frica as Fear

When Hans Bellmer showed the surrealists his Doll (Poupee), in this too they recognized an example of the revolutionary art for which they longed. This was a love-hate object, symbolizing all the fascination which the female body inspires and all the rejections or the real world. The Doll was born as the result of Bellmer's revolt against his father and against society. In Berlin, where he lived, he worked as an industrial designer. For his own amusement he drew sketches of little girls, and of tiny scraps of waste which he picked up in the street. After seeing Max Reinhardt's production of The Tales of Hoffmann, he was inspired by the story of the automaton Coppelia to build an artificial girl.

In 1933 Bellmer began to build his Doll with the help of his wife, his brother and a young girl cousin. Initially it was composed of some broom-handles fastened together and articulated. Bellmer wanted to give it an inner life by making six 'panoramas' which could be seen by pushing a button on its breast. While he was working on the Doll he studied unusual physical attitudes and then made a first naturalistic version which he photographed. An object which he made at this time, The Machine gun in a state of grace, a weapon whose barrel is a female body, is a clear indication of his intention to use his creations to repel the invading forces of the world. Then he returned to his favourite theme and made a new Doll with two pairs of legs arranged round the central core of a 'stomach ball'. The photographs he took of this in a garden inspired Paul Eluard's prose poems Les Jeux de la poupee (1938).

In 1938, after the death of his wife, Bellmer took up permanent residence in Paris. His drawings and paintings, which all start from the theme of the doll, expressed his 'interanatomic dreams'. He dissected what he called the 'physical unconscious', the images which a man can create for himself of his own body or of that of the woman he desires. He composed hybrid women, most frequently by giving concrete form to various attitudes in one image. 'If, instead of selecting only three or four moments of a movement (as is done, for instance, in manuals of gymnastics), all these movements are added integrally and in the form of an object, the result is a visual synthesis of the curves and surfaces along which each point of the body moves', he wrote in his Anatomie de I'image (1957). He also evoked 'the strange object, the tragic and mysterious trace which would be left by a nude thrown from a window on to the pavement'. All these bodies, made up of a head and limbs which are split or transposed, are plastic anagrams, menacing variations on the theme of desire.

A number of key formulae have been used over the years to define the work of the surrealists. These are not orders, given by Breton, and used as recipes; they are the cardinal virtues of surrealism in which all its artists were steeped, and on which they were all brought up. The first among these is 'convulsive beauty', the beauty which results from a sharp conflict between movement and immobility, and which implies an extreme tension of the being, and a delirious agitation kept secret or compressed by circumstances. Breton has given as an example of this a locomotive abandoned in a virgin forest. The second value is 'objective chance', that is the sum total of the coincidences which control a destiny. The third is 'black humour'. This form of humour has nothing derisive about it; on the contrary, because of its tragic undertones, it constitutes a kind of poetic terrorism. The fourth value, amour fou, 'extravagant love', is easily enough understood. It is this that ensures that in most surrealist works the image of woman shines out like that of a guardian goddess. Naturally no surrealist painter ever set out with the intention of creating a picture of 'convulsive beauty' or 'black humour'. The surrealists expressed these values almost despite themselves, because of the forces which animated the action of the group, and which as a result demanded that the temperament of the group should exalt certain qualities in preference to others.

Hans Bellmer


The internationalization of the Surrealist movement is dated after the purges and schisms surrounding 1929's Second Surrealist Manifesto, acknowledging the new membership in the early 1930s and the spread of ideas and exhibition schedules into the 1940s and '50s. Their diaspora during World War II had a profound effect on the culture of art and eventually there were hundreds of claimed members with Surrealist chapters or organizations in most major European capitals, as well as in South and North America. But Surrealism had been international from the beginning, forged from the international Dada movement. Many of the original artists from the 1920s continued to be aligned, formally or informally, with the Surrealists, and ideas continued to develop in the so-called heroic period of 1924-29. Old or new, they shared the desire to shift avant-garde art from pure-painting (peinture-pure) to poetic-painting (pein-ture-poesie).

Oscar Dominguez


Max Ernst

As the group moved to differentiate itself from Dadaists it was Max Ernst, newly arrived in Paris from Cologne in 1922, who was working with the issues that interested them most. Before teaching himself painting, Ernst had been a student of both philosophy and psychiatry, studied the works of Jean Charcot and Freud, and visited an asylum to witness the power of images created by those judged insane. Much of his painting constituted an unwritten manifesto with which Breton apparently collaborated.

Ernst's The Elephant Celebes (1921) signals the new influence of de Chirico in synthesis with his established use of collage. Ernst had been collaging images from his own hypnagogic state, as well as images found in the ordinary world of journals and magazines which had some psychic resonance for him. In this work he has "found" a de Chirico mannequin, and removed the head—hence the sight of the figure—while allowing it to "see" well enough to beckon the large biomechanical form in the background, another "found" image. The collaged disjunction makes little apparent sense, thus the non-sense of Dada. But the issue of sightless sight was an important one for the Surrealists since it stood as a metaphor for the higher internal vision. A similar metaphor runs throughout the slightly later work of the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte, as seen in his 1928 painting of an open eye, The False Mirror. Open eyes see the wrong world; only sightless sight may truly see and beckon others.

Ernst's Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) extends the idea of collage into physical construction. The distant vista owes a debt to de Chirico, and the use of infinite space as a metaphor for mental or psychical space was utilized by an entire wing of Surrealist illusionist painters: Salvador Dali, Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Dorothea Tanning, and Lenora Carrington, among others. Here Ernst uses a bird—a frequent symbol in his work—placed typically in a mysterious and unnerving spatial theater on whose stage an enigmatic psychic drama plays out. There was no difference for Ernst between the dream and reality, a condition that made him a lifelong model for Surrealism and Breton.

Ernst's lack of formal training may be the reason he was the least bound and most innovative of the Surrealists in applying new techniques, which he always placed in the service of the imagination. In 1925 he began to use rubbings ("frottage"), where he acquired an image from laying paper over a textured surface and rubbing it with pencil or crayon. For instance, his oil painting The Horde (1927) used frottage from rubbings of strings for an accidental discovery in the world of monsters, enhanced to show their simultaneous existence in reality and in our unconscious.

Later, Ernst often applied these powers to a critique of Western civilization. Europe After the Rain (1940-42) portrays the carnage of a Europe at war. The process used here was decalcomania, a technique "invented" by the Spanish Surrealist Oscar Dominguez in 1934, later employed by many artists. Similar to frottage, the image results accidentally from laying one sheet on another which already contains oil or some other wet medium. Dominguez and others were content with their amorphous images, which were a veritable fantasy of abstract forms suggesting minerals, fauna, aquatic life, and luxuriant growth. Ernst, however, mined these tellurian hills with his own hallucinatory vision.

Chance operated as a concrete and integral part of Surrealist process, a form they termed "objective chance." Here visions are found already concretized in the world rather than created from within the artist and positioned into the world, as would be the case with automatism. The resonance between the interior state of the artist and the exterior condition of nature was taken as testimony to the marvelous.

Max Ernst
The Beautiful Season

Paintings such as these show how artificial the line is between Dadaism and Surrealism.
It is likely that the poet-formulators of Surrealism learned a great deal about
their own future directions from reading Ernst's paintings, prints, and collages.

Jоаn Miro

Surrealism gave the Spanish painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) the confidence to go back into the roots of his life and draw from them a rich amalgam of imagery and fantasy. Like his close friend and fellow traveler in the development of an abstract form of Surrealism, Andre Masson, Miro converted the shallow space of Cubism into a kind of mental laboratory. There, he loosed his automatism to create biomorphic forms which inhabit that most Surrealist of sites, the region that partakes of both reality and dream. The Harlequins Carnival (1924-25) invokes the richness of a childhood imagination—a literal carnival of doll-like masqueraders cavorting in the animated workshop-studio of their creator. The combination of children's fantasy and the deeper psychological resonance derived from these biomorphic forms touch us as we both witness and participate.

Not given to argument or interest in the politics and theory that preoccupied the Surrealists in the early 1930s, Miro drifted away from the official movement while retaining contact, relationships, and collaborations. He also continued his own, highly personal development which oscillated between the imagery of the fantastic and that of pure abstraction. In 1925 he began to work less realistically and more automatically, deriving images from his paint on the canvas. Finally, in synthesis, he began with found images in the world—such as animals and machine parts—and transformed them into abstract biomorphs reminiscent of Arp. His series of paintings from the early 1930s portray biomorphs that seem somehow alive, floating in an infinite space. For Miro, the process of transformation, now hidden from the viewer, embodied the Surrealist relationship between the real and poetic worlds.

Joan Miro
Harlequin's Carnival

Miro's ability to give himself up entirely to the recreation of a new and private world through painting brought
Breton to call him "the most Surrealist of us all."

Andre Masson

The abstract automatist art practiced by Arp, Miro, and Masson was the dominant form of art in the 1920s and into the early 1930s. Masson (1896-1987) consistently worked with the automatic processes as never ending sources for images. Wounded and traumatized by the trench fighting in World War I, his images and titles eventually embodied a mythological world of primal passion and conflagration. His Battle of Fishes (1926) pictured the world as the battleground of the oceanic unconscious, where blood is figuratively spilled across real sand.

Excommunicated by Breton but reconciled in the late 1930s, Masson was allied more with the Bataille group of Surrealists. His work developed an open eroticism, one of forces more than forms. Masson was among the many who came to the United States during the war years. His continued use of mythological figures, such as in There is No Finished World (1942), reference both ancient monsters and the primal unconscious—a point of interest that members of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists found significant. In the 1940s they, too, were trying to develop a sense of the primal power found in mythology but located in some alternative to European traditions, an alternative indicated for them by Masson's images and belief in automatic creative processes.

Andre Masson
Battle of Fishes

Masson developed a personal mythology throughout his life,
frequently using the automatic dripping of glue covered with sand as a source for his images.
His world was one filled with the hostility and battles of primal forces in conflict.


Magritte & Tanguy

The other major pole to Surrealist painting consisted of an almost academic style utilizing clear contours and forms designed to convince the viewer of their three-dimensional reality. Their sense of illusionism, however, was part of a Surrealist agenda to present the tangibility of the unreal. Artists such as Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, and many more, presented images in a highly realistic style to establish a purposeful contradiction—a believable presentation of unreal images.

Starting, like Ernst, from the works of de Chirico, the Belgian painter Rene Magritte (1898-1967) remained committed to creating recognizable images, though ones designed to question the nature of images and imaging. In pitting "illusionistic" against "real" space, he reminds us that this is, after all, painting. For instance, The Promenades of Euclid (1955) is a late version of a lifelong theme: how painting is assumed to be a spatial extension of this world. With his incredible spatial illusion and reference system, Magritte offers painting as an extension of the dream or the marvelous in the world. In short, he is able to use traditional systems to give a new function to painting. His few paintings that combine words and images also rely on confounding the relationship between systems of seeing and knowing.

The French painter Yves Tanguy (1900-55) turned to painting after seeing a de Chirico in a window. Self-taught, his early works have a loose, airy quality to them, as evidenced in The Storm (1926), whose lush grottolike setting has fragmentary images embedded like floating bits of irrational mental debris. By 1927 Tanguy began construction of deep spatial settings populated with tightly painted biomorphic forms, a typology he followed for the rest of his life and can be seen in The Furniture of Time (1929). Unlike Arp and Miro, Tanguy's forms carry no overtones of narration or literalness. His sense of the poetic comes not from the forms themselves but rather from the way they are embedded within a deep, atmospheric space.

Yves Tanguy
The Furniture of Time

Influenced, like Magritte, by the spatial settings of de Chirico,
Tanguy merged his abstract objects with the setting, relying less on disjunction and more on absorption.


Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali (1904-89) was one of the important new members heralding the 1930s expansion of Surrealism. He and fellow Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel had been directly influenced by the movement while making, in 1929, their renowned art film Un chien Andalou ("An Andalusian Dog"), followed in 1930 by L'Age d'or ("The Golden Age"). The Surrealists were avid film fans and the magic fantasy of the bright screen in the dark room gave an invigorating metaphor for their own program. But aside from a few examples, in the 1930s Surrealist film as a genre awaited Bunuel's further development in the 1950s. The early works were generally a compendium of visual scenes, often unrelated or arranged along a broad theme and derived from Dada films. But their emphasis on the issues of desire and its psychological burdens or, more pointedly, on the outrageous erotics of love in the face of middle-class restrictions, were pure Surrealism.

It is Dali more than any figure in the public eye who has come to embody Surrealism in art, act, and even appearance, all testimony to his true genius—publicity. Aside from his personality, Dali is best known for his realistic style of painting images which are recognizable but generally resistant to rational interpretation. The combination is disruptive and provides a surreal moment of interplay between the reconcilable and the irreconcilable, between a base in reality and a dreamscape. In this Dali is one of many, but he is certainly one of the best physical and academic painters of the group, and his work is more consistently outrageous, matching exactly his public persona and distinctive philosophy.

Dali's introduction to Freudianism through the Surrealists solidified a lifelong personal struggle with a powerful dream world and allowed him to accept more openly the erotics and anxieties he found there. Dali rejected the "sleep" of the Surrealists to produce art from an agitated psychological state of self-induced paranoia, a process he called a "paranoiac-critical activity." This he first defined as a "spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the critical and systematic objectification of delirious associations and interpretations."

Early paintings such as Illumined Pleasures and The Great Masturbator, both from 1929, are typical small-sized paintings of images that seem to be solidified dreams set within the Surrealist infinite space. Highly realistic in style, portraying what appear to be unreal images, they are actually "real" embodiments of not just Dali's own fantasies but of the psychological, and often psychosexual, issues which many deny or wish to avoid. Although Freud, whom Dali met in 1938, chastised the artist for his conscious rather than unconscious imagery, Dali's art does resonate on a personal level to reinforce public communication. His Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War (1936) embodies the horror of the Spanish Civil War. The evocation of monstrosity is made powerful precisely because the artist uses the biomorphic organicism of the boiled bean to elicit a primal sexuality which resonates on a personal level. The open phallicism, implied castration, and impotence marshal his personal male fears through a blatant but shocking Freudian understanding into a history painting.

Expelled by Breton in 1934 for his commercialism, Dali moved to the United States in 1940 to participate in its commercial culture. By 1950 he turned to Christian and mystical subject matter—such as The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955)—works whose stature in the history of art is still the subject of much debate. These late works, though, do remind us that although Dali's paintings often assert a psychological alienation, there is at the root of his art, as with many Surrealist artists, a desire to communicate a fuller sense of life.

Salvador Dali
Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War

Dali's private repressions and dreams could be marshaled into a powerful account of public issues,
as in this painting devoted to the Spanish Civil War.

Giacometti & the Unseen

The Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti's (1901-66) bronze "figure" Spoon Woman (1926-27) illustrates the application of a modernist simplification of form to a highly personalized and playful use of African wood carving. The combination of woman and spoon, produced several years before Giacometti joined the Surrealists, was the type of disjunction and visual metamorphosis that appealed to their aesthetic.

His 1932 cast bronze floor piece, Woman with Her Throat Cut, confronts us uncomfortably with the problematic aspects of violence and sexuality within the heterosexual and primarily patriarchal orientation of Surrealism. True, the figure is more insect than woman, a type of anthropomorphizing revered by many Surrealists, and it is more thorax than throat that has been cut. But the title moves us purposefully to "woman" and the death throes are cannibalized into a fairly blatant psychosexual eros typical in sadism. Biological sexual instincts are, of course, at the base of Freud's theory of the psyche and served the Surrealists as a metaphor for creativity in addition to being another way to shock the middle class. However, a work like this brings more than sexual drive and creativity to the foreground.

The debate, like that over the libertine French author Marquis de Sade, the mentor of much of the later Bataille wing of Surrealism, is not resolved even today. It is maintained between those who interpret such images as testimonials to a blatant misogyny in much of Surrealism and others who see them as constructs to confront the public with its uncomfortable truths. The doll constructions (La Роuрeе), which are Freudian fetish-objects, and the drawings and photographs of them by the German Surrealist Hans Bellmer, place this question directly: What are the problems and the consequences of latent sexual fantasy now made manifest? Most Western cultures wrestle unevenly with the issue of the repressed, though public interpretations often differ from the intentions of the artist. The latter also raises a question central to much of modern art—the strategies, role, and function of consciousness-raising by intellectuals. Dreams of liberation, sexual or political, most frequently remain latent for a variety of reasons.

Several interpretations of Giacometti's works are valid to varying degrees but they rarely encompass the sum total of their richness. The sculptor's wooden table-top structure The Palace at 4 AM. (1932-33) is considered a masterpiece in sculpture of the Surrealist dream tableaux found in paintings. More baffling is his 1934-35 Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Objects). Like his "Palace" but less objectified, the "primitivized" figure, whose face derives from a World War I gas mask, holds that which cannot be seen—the object and central contradiction of the Surrealist program: The invisible is the marvelous and it may be manifest anywhere in the world. In the following decade the quest to "truly see" will turn Giacometti's work in another direction and he will renounce these works as useless junk.


Hans Bellmer
The Doll

Alberto Giacometti
Woman with Her Throat Cut

Fully informed by Surrealist and Freudian theory, with a penchant for the Kafkaesque anthropomorphising of insects,
Giacometti created a disturbing construction from his private fantasies of death and passion.

Sculpture and Objects

Sculpture developed late in Surrealism, likely because its solidity seems antithetical to their psychic experiments. It developed after the Second Manifesto in the 1930s as interest in automatism faded, in tandem with the rise of the illusionistic painting of Dali, Magritte, and others. Although none of it can be called traditional sculpture, there did develop a new, important category of "objects." With some, like Miro, sculptures appeared late in life as extensions of the fantastic biomorphs already created in painting. For others, like Arp, sculptural form was to be a by-product of the principles embedded in both nature and the artist's psyche. Max Ernst frequently developed a more concrete subject matter that associates references to mythological or "ancient" presence and the psyche. His The King Playing with the Queen (1944) is a variation on a work whose central image, the horned king, emerged from automatist painting, much like Masson's iconography.

Perhaps the more important domain, one that became the predominant vehicle for the Surrealists, was the "Surrealist object." The Surrealist object is a three-dimensional collage of found objects chosen for their poetic meaning or psychic resonance rather than for aesthetic values. Dali and Giacometti were the first to make what Dali titled "Objects of Symbolic Function." In a sophisticated argument the Surrealists placed a primacy on real objects that maintain their integrity. Old art relied too much on the artist as manipulator of materials; Surrealism, like the analyst, was more "objective" in the discovery of the marvelous in the world. At the same time, in psychoanalytic terms of dream analysis, they recognized that objects, inclusive of body parts or Duchamp's ready-mades, by choice or chance, were repositories of personal desire made objective. Breton and others were inveterate flea-market habitues, since finding "things" of objectified desire, they believed, was akin to poetry.

Dali's 1936 Lobster Telephone is less poetic, more designed to startle through incommensurate objects in the same way that his paintings functioned. Breton's "poem-objects" and Joan Miro's "Poetic Objects" are closer to the visual complexity and multiple levels of association necessary to be poetic. Perhaps the best examples come from an American who was too reclusive to join the Surrealists but was greatly influenced by them. Joseph Cornell's little boxes of found objects, often with movable parts designed to make noise and including music boxes—such as the 1945 construction The Hotel Eden—are poetic recreations of moments, places, and meanings in his life. Meret Oppenheim's famous Object, a cup, saucer, and spoon covered in fur, invokes a primordial pun whose open reference to the sexual congress wittily applies in an everyday oral activity. The Surrealists made hundreds of such "objects" work on many levels.

A favored Surrealist object was that of the mannequin. These proliferated in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, and appeared most famously in multiplication along a constructed "Street of Surrealism" for the 1938 international exhibition in Paris. The precise meaning of the mannequins varied. In early 1959 Meret Oppenheim attempted such a definition, apparently serving a banquet at her home and utilizing the body of a woman on a table as a food service tray. When Breton heard of this event he asked her to reproduce it at their 1959 International Exhibition on the theme "EROS," using mannequins of men and women.

Joan Miro
Poetic Objects

Salvador Dali
Lobster Telephone

Dali was likely the first Surrealist to introduce objects in the place of sculpture, but his intention was not, as was Duchamp's, to challenge the meaning of art; Dali wanted Surrealist objects to function symbolically.

The Surrealists brought a new category of object into existence, alongside "sculpture."
Their insistence on locating poetic moments in the world demanded a serious sense of the "objective" world.
The dislocation through unreconcilable objects was the new surreality.

Joseph Cornell
The Hotel Eden


Women and Surrealism

Dadaism and Surrealism both made promises that could not be fully kept regarding the role of women and the emerging feminist consciousness in the early twentieth century. Unrestricted freedom against control and domination was the dream of Surrealism and in the acceptance and celebration of the nature of instinct lay the supposed power to subvert repression.

The Surrealist celebration of love, of an open sexuality, mostly heterosexual, and the great weight they placed on the concept of "woman" helped advance the acceptance of women as independent and powerful creators. But accepting woman as an ideal rather than real construction (la femme)—muse, mystery, fantasy—along with the play of objectification of women and sexuality inherent in Freudian psychology, and, the culturally established sexism that men could not personally escape, all these worked as a reduction. However, the degrees of liberation and repression are relative to the viewer.

Meret Oppenheim accepted the "male-centered-ness" of Surrealism as a standard historical attitude. To her liberated perspective, there was only full and equal acceptance of women in Surrealism. The female "muse," a role she played in front of Man Ray's camera, could be seen simply as the male attempting to deal with the female side of his nature. In contrast, Leonor Fini, born in Buenos Aires and an international traveler and artist by her late teens, reportedly hated Breton's authoritarianism. Despite her many good friendships with the group and occasional exhibition she refused to join. Nor was the most famous woman "Surrealist," Frida Kahlo, a member. Despite being acclaimed by Breton, who stayed with Kahlo, her husband Diego Rivera, and Trotsky in Mexico in 1938, Kahlo rejected Surrealism as a Europeanized overlay. She was heir to Mexico's magic realism, an indigenous tradition, and there remained a divide between those of
Tellingly, the photographic portraits of women Surrealists appear only in informal snapshots and are missing from the official group portraits. Yet more women exhibited with the Surrealists with more open exchange between men and women as creators than in any other modern art movement.

In some cases, personal relationships were established between male and female Surrealists, but it was not the traditional causal relation of artistic influence as usually assumed. For instance, the American painter Kay Sage went on to marry Yves Tanguy in 1940 but had established a career with a one-woman exhibition years prior their meeting. It was an admiration for her work that drew the Surrealists to her, especially Tanguy and Ernst. Typically among Surrealists there was the affinity of shared aesthetics. Sage's cool, smooth-surfaced vistas, as in her Danger, Construction Ahead (1940), certainly paralleled Tanguy's work but speak to a quite different architectural and psychological world.

Leonora Carrington, an English painter and writer, met Max Ernst in 1937 and returned to Paris with him. By 1940 they were separated, and in 1942 she was living in Mexico, where she went on to make a life as a writer as well as painter. Carrington's atavism certainly related to Ernst's but her purposeful mixture of animal passion, alchemy, and the feminization of the creative spirit wove a magical ground at once powerful and unique in experience.

Dorothea Tanning, an American, met Ernst in New York and they married in 1946, the year they settled in Arizona. Her works share with Ernst a feel for de Chirico's space and a general air of strangeness filled with strong forces, but her imagery and her rather ferocious energy are the results of a serious exploration of no other but her own psyche.

Meret Oppenheim
Man Ray-Meret Oppenheim; Object (Luncheon in Fur), 1936

Leonor Fini
Dora Maar -Leonor Fini, 1936; From One Day to the Next

Kay Sage
Kay Sage; The Upper Side of the Sky, 1944

Trained in the United States and Italy, Sage's first one-woman exhibition in 1936 was in Milan. In Paris from 1936 to 1939, she was hailed by the Surrealists. She was joined by Tanning in the United States in 1940, where she executed this work. Sage's sparse expanse of isolated landscape gains tension from her sharp, architectural forms.


Dorothea Tanning
Max Ernstt and Dorothea Tanning in 1948; Ein klein nachtmusik, 1946

Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst; Self-Portrait, 1937

Frida Kahlo
Frida; The Two Fridas, 1939

Kahlo's first big canvas was painted for the 1940s international Surrealist exhibition held in Mexico City,
at the time of her divorce from Diego Rivera, represented by the bleeding heart.
One Frida is Mexican, indigenous, and loved; the other is European, as is Surrealism,
a movement whose members admired her work, but which she never joined.



It is often argued that the introduction of photography in the mid-nineteenth century created a problem for art, since painting now had to find a new role outside representation. Surrealism, though, turned the tables and problematized photography by using its very strength, its inherent ability to create an image we assume is factual and objective, to its advantage. Once a sense of the mysterious could be located within and through photography, it was the perfect medium for Surrealism and no movement employed photography so extensively.

Man Ray's rayographs objectified or "found" another dimension of the physical world, just as Atget's storefront and doorway reflections documented entwined and shifting perspectives Dora Maar, a photographer best known through her relationship with Picasso from 1935 to 1942, was an independent member of the Surrealist movement. Maar understood and objectified the dark humor, or "umour," as Jacques Vache called it, of the Surrealists. Through her photograph of Pere Ubu she gave a strange but physical embodiment to the fictional character from Alfred Jarry's play. Pere Ubu's appetites proved too much for himself and his country but he was a self-contained anarchist beloved by the Surrealists in his bestial form. The true animal nature of civilization was about to reveal itself shortly in a more serious manner.

Under the influence of Man Ray, Raoul Ubac , a Belgian artist, used photomontages, solarization, and "brulage," a singeing of the negatives to melt them prior to printing. In his Battle of the Amazons, the edges of the work physically erupt to become the images as they move in and out of a darkened matrix of war. It is a mythic battle which simultaneously maintains its mystery and a sense of the factual, since the year 1939 documents the eruption of World War II.

The insistence in Surrealism of locating the intersection of the real and the unreal had a major impact in documentary photography, practiced by such well known commercial photographers as Brassai, who worked for Harper's in the 1930s, as did his colleague and sometime collaborator, Andre Kertesz; also involved was one of the most famous of World War II photographers, Lee Miller, who earlier had shot for Vogue. All three were intimates of the Surrealist circle; all three transferred what they learned, saw, and shot into variations of their commercial and artistic work. It is perhaps Miller, though, that Surrealism best served, if in an oblique manner. Her photographs were the first to record in full detail and make real to a disbelieving public the horrors of the Nazi genocide at Dachau and Buchenwald in 1944. As a realist, she documented the most bestial and "unreal" acts possible within the real world. The genuine madness of the world had outstripped and given lie to the dreams of the Surrealists.

Lee Miller


Surrealist Muse Lee Miller

Muse, model, surrealist and war photographer, Lee Miller witnessed at first hand the best and worst of the twentieth century.
Man Ray was her lover, Pablo Picasso her friend, she danced with Chaplin and bathed in Hitler's bath tub.
Her work includes Vogue fashion spreads and the first images of Dachau.
But after the war she put away her camera and devoted herself to married life in Sussex.

Man Ray
Lee Miller

Roland Penrose, Lee Miller Holding Fishing Spear and
Dead Octopus, Cote d’Azur, France, August 1937

Munchen: Lee Miller in Hitlers Badewanne
Photographiert von dem "Life"-Photographen David E. Scherman,
der oftmals mit Lee Miller zusammenarbeitete, 1945

Lee Miller
Picasso and Roland Penrose
Mougins, France

Lee Miller
Picasso and Lee Millerr in Picasso's studio
Paris France

Lee Miller
Hand reaching for umbrella fringe
Paris France

Lee Miller
Joseph Cornell
New York

Antony Penrose
The Lives of Lee Miller

Raoul Ubac

Coming first to Surrealist theory then to photography, this Belgian artist was able to develop techniques to match a vision expressed by Bataille as "living on the edge of limits where all understanding breaks down."

Raoul Ubac
Portrait dans un miroir

Raoul Ubac
Battle of the Amazons

Raoul Ubac
Group III

Raoul Ubac
Objets possibles


Dora Maar
Portrait of Pere Ubu

Pere Ubu was a comical/sinister hero with a pointed skull and a big nose and belly—
a dictator so self-centered and anarchistic that all laws were contained in his own belly.
The Yugoslavian photographer Maar gives us the bestial image of the beloved character.