History of Surrealism, A Brief Introduction
From the Literary to the Pictorial
metaphysical prologue should help you in furthering your knowledge, by study and research, about
one of the most intriguing art movements of the XX century. As you will see, it will give you only
a sketchy panorama of some of the principal characters and events without any elaboration or
explanation in the hope that, after reading it, you will visit a book store or a library. Remember
that you might spend a life acquiring assets and then lose them, but the knowledge you acquire you
will never; therefore, take care of your health, accumulate wealth and, above all, strive to gain
Surrealism is a term applied to Art as well as to Literature.
The Surrealists claimed as their own writers, poets, and philosophers who lived even before Guillame Apollinaire coined the term in 1917 and André Breton, as the principal theoretician and chief propagator of the movement, immortalized it in his First Surrealist Manifesto published in 1924. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Isidore Ducasse better known as le Conte de Lautréamont (1846-1870), and Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) are some of the poets who preceeded the birth of DADA. Founded in Zürich in the spring of 1916 by Hans Arp, Hugo Ball, Richard Hulsenbeck, Marcel Janko and Tristan Tzara at a little bar known as Cabaret Voltaire, DADA is considered to be the pre-Surrealist phase.
Paul Eluard (1895-1952), poet, and Louis Aragon (1897-1982), poet and novelist were active participants from the beginning and they, together with the poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, were three of the most recognizable literary figuresof this century associated with the movement.
It was the inspiration of the Surrealists to avoid presenting or representing reality and to put the emphasis on invention and creativity by uncovering the poetic aspect of life with its kaleidoscopic multidimensional images and by tapping the hallucinatory power of the irrational and every other possible source of metaphysical energy. The Surrealists had empathy with the artists of previous generations who shared their vision and used reality only to enhance imagination. From Hieronymus Van Aeken Bosh (1450-1516) with his erotic, sadistic and sarcastic themes, and Pieter Bruegel, senior (1528-1569) with his fantastic paintings of the hallucination of sick peasants, to Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) with his worlds of dreams and Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) with his allegorical figures composed of animal and vegetable imagery; from Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) with his dream eroticism and Jean-Ignace Gérard Grandville (1803-1847) with his distinctly humorous dream fantasy to Gustave Doré (1832-1883), painter, litographer and wood engraver of the fantastic, the bizarre and the sublime and Arnold Börklin (1827-1901) with his mythological and dreamlike landscapes. Some others were: Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Henry Rousseau (1840-1916) and Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
Surrealism affirmed the supremacy of the unconscious over the conscious, and preferred allegorical composition to the shallow imitation of nature. Dealing with the fantastic, every painting conjured up a dream world inhabited by unworldly mysterious figures, elongated objects, melting watches, unexplained shadows entering the field of vision... From Breton's First Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, and his Second Surrealist Manifesto in 1929, quite a few painters adhered to the Movement and some of them were also poets and writers (De Chirico, Mesens, Dalí).
The following artists who joined Breton in the first five years (1924-1929) will give you an idea of the range and main attributes of shock and fascination of an art form that never stops to amaze every gallerygoer and museumgoer in almost every continent. Before I give you the names, I feel that it is my duty to remind you to go to the librry and get the books that have colour reporductions so that you may assess what I have been saying. And the names of the artists are: Hans Arp, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio De Chirico, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Francis Picabia, Pablo, Picasso, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters and Yves Tanguy. Yes, Picasso flirted with Surrealism from 1925 to 1944.
From the first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Loeb, Paris, in 1925
to the International Surrealism Exhibition at the Burlington Gallery,
London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1936; from the exhibition at the
Galerie Maeght, Paris, in 1949, to the Venice Biennale, Venice, 1954;
from the exhibition at the Baukunstgalerie, Cologne, in 1969 to the exhibition at the
Hayward Gallery, London, 1978; another exhibition, that aroused international
interest, was i surrealisti at the Palazzo Reale, Milan, in 1989...
International Connections (The Americas)
touched and keeps on touching all aspects of creative thought leaving its mark in films, music
videos, and commercial displays. In the films of Luis Buñuel (L'age d'or),
Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries), Federico Fellini (Fellini satyricon),
Wood Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo), George Lucas (Raiders of the Lost
Ark), and Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park). You can feel the magic of the
poetic liberation of reality, as it appears to be, and its metamorphosis, as it is willed to be,
helping the viewer to transcend the ordinary in life and reach for the extraordinary as conceived
by the mind.
You will experience the same feeling by watching the music videos by such great interpreters as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince.
Now you have taken the first metaphysical step into the field of Surrealism. Now search for the esoteric and, at times, erotic compositions, the moral and philosophycal inventions outside the framework of reality and let your visual perception nourish your aesthetic appreciation of the disturbing and hallucinatory images of Surrealism.
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Revised: June 28, 1998