Art of the 20th Century

A Revolution in the Arts



Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



The Great Avant-garde Movements



Surrealist Art








Conquest of the marvellous


Surrealism and painting


Towards a revolutionary art


Across the world


The object


Festivals of the imagination


In the United States


Surrealist architecture


The post-war period







see also:

Surrealism - 1924

Max Ernst
"A Week of Kindness" (A surrealistic novel in collage)

Rene Magritte "Thought rendered visible"

Salvador Dali

Surrealism  "The Dream of Revolution"


Baron, Queneau, Breton, Boiffard, de Chirico, Vitrac, Eluard, Soupault, Desnos, Aragon.

Naville, Simone Collinet-Breton, Morise, Marie-Louise Soupault.






Towards a revolutionary art

EXPLORATION: Salvador Dali

Alberto Giacometti
Oscar Dominguez
Wolfgang Paalen
Victor Brauner
Hans Bellmer



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.



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


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, Buńuel 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, Buńuel 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 Buńuel'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



Gala with the
Elsa Schiaparelli
shoe hat,
after designs by Dali, 1936

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.


Dali and Gala filming the "Dream of Venus"in the Murray Korman Studiosin New York, 1939
Photograph: George Platt Lyne



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'.

Salvador Dali
The Great Masturbator


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.).


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


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
One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused
by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate




Salvador Dali

by Robert Descharnes & Gilles Neret

If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One!  1910-1928
The Proof of Love  1929-1935
The Conguest of the Irrational 1936-1939
The Triumph of Avida Dollars  1939-1946
The Mystical Manifesto  1946-1962
Paths to Immortality  1962-1989

Biblia Sacrata, Marquis de Sade, Faust, The Art of Love,
Don Quixote, Divine Comedy, Decameron,
Casanova, Les Caprices de Goya




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 Buńuel, 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).





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.


Giacometti, photograph by Gartier Bresson


Alberto Giacometti
Suspended ball or the Hour of Traces

Alberto Giacometti
The Invisible Object

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).

Alberto Giacometti
The Palace at 4 A.M.

Alberto Giacometti
The Surrealist Table



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.


Alberto Giacometti
Woman with Her Throat Cut

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-Chaumičre 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




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.

Oscar Dominguez
Nostalgia for Space

 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.

Hans Bellmer
Doll (Poupee)


Hans Bellmer
Instructions to Sexuality




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).



Hans Bellmer
The Machine-Gunneress in a State of Grace

Hans Bellmer
A Thousand Girls

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


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