PEDIGREE & PROVENANCE--art words and terms.


" absolute reality, a surreality"--Andre Breton

What is Surrealism?

In the 1920's and 30's, the proponents of Surrealism, a European visual arts and literary movement, explored the direct expression of the unconscious unobscured by rational thought. Surrealism was influenced by Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theories, but the movement was also very much a reaction against the "reason" that had led Europe into the devastations of World War I.

Who were Surrealism's leaders?

Yves Tanguy painting

French writer Andre Breton, who served in a military hospital in WWI, created the philosophical core of Surrealism. The Surrealist painters essentially divided into two camps according to their visual style: organic or narrative Surrealism.

Yves Tanguy Organic Surrealist Painting

Jean Arp surrealist sculpture

The organic Surrealists included Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Yves Tanguy and Joan Miro. These Surrealist painters worked with amorphous, organic forms which were imaginatively suggestive--even emotionally expressive--but non-representational.

Jean Arp Surrealist Sculpture

Salvador Dali surrealist painting

By contrast, the narrative Surrealists which included Rene Magritte, Pierre Roy, Salvador Dali, and Paul Delvaux painted a precisely depicted, hallucinatory world in which the elements were specifically represented but in which nothing made rational sense.

Salvador Dali Narrative Surrealist Painting, 1950

Eolo Pons drawing

In South American painting, the influence of Surrealismo appeared as early as 1932 in works by Antonio Berni who briefly flirted with the Surrealist sense of urban alienation in paintings reminiscent of Italian Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. From the late 1930's into the early 1950's, the dreamlike aspect of Surrealism continued to be explored in drawings and graphics by Planas Casas, Eolo Pons and Batlle Planas.

Eolo Pons Surrealist Drawing, 1939

Why is Surrealism important?

Max Ernst painting

Surrealism is credited as the force that kept expressive content alive in late 2Oth century art. Because it provided an alternative to the geometric side of abstraction, the organic branch of Surrealism exerted a substantial influence on young painters of the early 1940's who would become the Abstract Expressionists. Though born and educated on the West Coast, Robert Motherwell spent 1939 in Europe and then maintained his connections with Masson, Tanguy and Ernst when they were later exiled to New York. The intellectual distance from Max Ernst's automatism (automatic drawing) to Jackson Pollock's intuitively gestural painting is but a short hop.

Max Ernst Surrealist Painting

Heinrich surrealist steel sculptureChervin etching
Surrealism continues to influence contemporary artists. Elements of organic Surrealism are evident in the work of sculptor Richard Heinrich while Argentine artist Catalina Chervin makes drawings influenced by the ideas of psychological portraiture and of automatism.

Richard Heinrich steel sculpture Double (left)
Catalina Chervin Retrato (Portrait) B (right)

P&P: Abstract Expressionism
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P&P: Senufo
P&P: Surrealism
P&P: turquoise


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