Members of the Bureau central de recherches surréalistes, 1924
Standing: Jacques Baron, Raymond Queneau, Pierre Naville, André Breton, Jacques-André Boiffard, Giorgio de Chirico, Roger Vitrac, Paul Eluard, Philippe Soupault, Robert Desnos, Louis Aragon; seated: Simone Breton, Max Morise, Marie-Louise Soupault
German sculptor, draftsman and photographer
Hans Bellmer's authoritarian, rigorously puritan father forced him to work in coal mines and steel works from an early age. He found succor in the world of his mother, the loving opposite of his strict father. Already in childhood he transformed his toys, and later took drawing courses at Berlin Technical College.
In 1932 Bellmer began creating what he called an "artificial daughter" -- The Doll -- after seeing The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera about the mechanical doll Olympia and the young Nathaniel's despairing love for her. Several themes intrigued Bellmer: the motifs of the doppelgänger, deception, passion and demise. He photographed The Doll in various poses and published a book of the images that went through several editions.
From May 1935 onwards he participated in every Surrealist group exhibition, showing primarily his photos of The Doll, which triggered horror and delight among the audience. The artist's work fascinated the Surrealists, as they viewed the metamorphosis of the human body as a stage in the cycle of life and death.
French poet and writer, founder and theoretician of Surrealism
In 1900, Breton's bourgeois, originally Breton family moved to Paris. Devoting himself to poetry from his senior year on, Breton was principally influenced by Symbolism, which he preferred to Zola's Naturalism. In 1915 he began to study medicine, something he would later term a "pure alibi."
On the outbreak of war Breton was still apolitical, yet already critical of the militaristic spirit of the age. As an intern in a neuropsychiatric ward at the front he was confronted by the mental sufferings of shell-shocked soldiers. He discovered the writings of Freud and developed a great interest in the unconscious mind and the threshold between dreams, imagination and reality.
Back in Paris, Breton and his poet friends Aragon and Soupault immersed themselves in the dark, phantasmagorical realm of Isidore Ducasse's Chants of Maldoror, 1874. In 1916 he met the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Jacques Vaché, whose works enchanted him. After their death, he became engaged in the journal Littérature in 1919. Together with Soupault, he developed "écriture automatique" and participated in Dada demonstrations in Paris. He married Simone Kahn in 1921. The two worked in the Office of Surrealist Research and supported themselves, among other things, by dealing in art. Breton discovered and furthered artists such as de Chirico, Ernst, Man Ray, and others.
In 1924 Breton wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto, establishing the premises and orientation of the movement.
Due to his desire for social and political change, Breton established ties with the French Communist Party in 1927. Yet detesting any kind of dogmatism, he distanced himself from it again as early as 1935. In a second Surrealist Manifesto, 1930, he defined the task of Surrealism as revolutionizing society, from social conditions to aesthetic attitudes. There followed lectures, exhibitions, and new periodicals (after La révolution surréaliste, 1924, Le surréalisme au service de la révolution, 1930-33, Minotaure, 1933-39).
After the outbreak of World War II, Breton and many other Surrealists fled to the U.S. He returned to France in 1946, continuing his publishing activities and efforts on behalf of Surrealism until his death in 1966.
Spanish painter, sculptor and set designer
Born in 1904, Dalí was confronted by life-shaping events in early childhood. The death of his brother and the love lavished on him by his parents led to a precocious involvement with life and death. A veritably narcissistic concern with his own identity set in as well. His attendance from 1921 at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid was interrupted by Dalí's provocative behavior, and from then on he continued to teach himself art.
His first show, in Barcelona, took place in 1925. In 1927 he met Picasso in Paris, and in 1929 Miró, Breton, Éluard, and his muse, Gala Éluard, who would later become his wife. Breton, for his part, was initially unsure about Dalí, and later indignant at what he considered his fascist tendencies. In 1934 began a series of attempts orchestrated by Breton to throw Dalí out of the group, but this did not ultimately happen until 1939. Thus Dalí still contributed illustrations to the Surrealist journal Minotaure in 1936 and figured prominently in Duchamp's (and Breton's) legendary 1938 exhibition in Paris.
Dalí's art revolves around psychic states to which the artist lent form by means of a visionary approach. His technique was worthy of an Old Master, enabling him to anchor the states of dream, ecstasy, despair and agony convincingly in an objective and figurative reality. Basic elements, such as the human body and landscapes, as well as objects, became the scene of hallucinatory metamorphosis.
The son of an Italian engineer, Giorgio de Chirico took drawing classes at the Polytechnical College in Athens as a child. In 1906 his family settled in Munich, where he discovered the art of Arnold Böcklin at the Academy of Arts. In 1909 Giorgio and his brother Alberto Savinio moved to Florence and Turin, whose urban architecture shaped the settings of his paintings.
In 1911 he befriended Apollinaire and Picasso in Paris. After 1915 he lived again in Italy, but retained contact with Breton and Éluard, who in 1924 began regularly publishing his paintings in the Surrealist journals. De Chirico was a member of the Office of Surrealist Research.
In the modern tradition, de Chirico's urban views combined temples, palaces, arcades, towers, factories, studios into a mysterious and tragic stage for lonely figures. His interiors of 1914-15 likewise posed riddles and suggested a voyage of discovery through unreal spaces, an aspect that deeply inspired the Surrealists. After 1925 a break with Surrealism occurred when de Chirico's style turned to a neoclassical romanticism.
German painter, printmaker and sculptor
In 1909 Ernst was a student of philology, philosophy and art history in Bonn. During this period he befriended August Macke, Robert Delaunay and Guillaume Apollinaire, and in 1914 met Hans Arp in Cologne. Ernst was inducted into the army in 1914. For him, the devastating experience of World War I represented a "break from life," to which he returned in 1918.
Together with Baargeld and Arp, Ernst established the Cologne Dada movement in 1918. This period also saw him developing his first collages, which over the following years and decades he would ramify and collect in extensive volumes. À l'intérieur de la vue, 8 poèmes visibles, would be published in 1931.
In 1922 Ernst moved to Paris and joined the Surrealist group. He participated in every important exhibition they held. Beginning in 1925, based on the technique of "écriture automatique", he developed a painterly version, a rubbing method known as frottage, used for the portfolio Histoire Naturelle of 1926. Further inventive techniques followed, a scraping method known as grattage (La grande fôret, 1927) and a transfer method known as decalcomania (Swampangel, 1940). Ernst adopted historical, sacred and mythological motifs, but always subjected them to a modern interpretation.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Ernst was interned in France. In 1940, with the aid of Peggy Guggenheim, whom he would later marry, he fled to the U.S. After separating from her, he lived from 1943 onwards with the artist Dorothea Tanning, who became his wife in 1946. The couple moved to the Arizona desert. In 1953 they returned to France.
Swiss sculptor, printmaker and painter
After studying classical sculpture in Paris, Giacometti increasingly turned to tribal art, which inspired him to reduce his works to fundamental forms. Femme, 1927, is an example of his striving to represent his "image of reality."
Around 1929 he approached the Surrealist circle, sparking a dialogue that led to his idea of the Surrealist object. The result was in part mobile yet invariably emotionally charged sculptures that often provoked indignation. Giacometti had his first one-man show at Galerie Pierre Colle in 1932 and participated, among other things, in the groundbreaking "Exposition surréaliste d'objets" in 1936 at Galerie Charles Ratton.
He addressed themes of importance to Surrealism – sexuality, violence, instinctual drives, fetishes (Objet desagréable à jeter, 1931), representations of actual and dreamlike spaces, and (dis)equilibrium. Transformations of the body were depicted through associations with everyday shapes, such as the spoon as a metaphor for the female body with a cello volute as head.
After breaking with the Surrealists in 1934, Giacometti returned to a figurative style.
After studying painting at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1916-21, Magritte became involved in Dada, de Stijl, and other avant-garde groups. In 1925, influenced by Ernst and de Chirico, he executed his first Surrealist paintings. Following his first one-man show in Brussels in 1927, Magritte participated in every Surrealist exhibition in Paris, London and New York from 1930-40. He lived in Paris from 1927 to 1930.
Back in 1926, the Belgian Surrealists Mesens, Nougé, Goemans and others had formed their own movement. It was not until 1928 that Breton finally accepted Magritte. There followed, in 1929, a quarrel with Breton on account of his wife, Georgette's, wish to wear a crucifix; Magritte's expulsion from the group lasted until 1933. In an animated dialogue with Breton concerning the principles of Surrealism, Magritte always sided with his Belgian fellow artists, who were sceptical of psychic and artistic automatism.
Characteristic of Magritte's art is an oscillation between an image of reality and reality per se. He himself spoke in 1938 of an "existence in two different spaces."
French painter and printmaker
Born into a farming family, Masson was awarded the Grand Prize of the Academy at the age of sixteen, which enabled him to establish his own studio in Paris. In 1914 he received a travel stipend for Italy. Back in France, he volunteered for war service. By the time he returned he was seriously wounded and mentally shaken by his experience of war.
Again in Paris around 1922, Masson supported himself by accepting various commissions. Around 1923-24 emerged his first "automatic drawings", a counterpart to Breton's automatic writing.The method involved rapid drawing and painting, letting the hand outstrip conscious thought. It stood opposed to collage, which, as Clébert noted, attempted to capture the permanence of the image. Masson's drawings were published in La révolution surréaliste, and he became a member of the journal's staff.
After going into American exile in 1941, he was already back in France in 1945. Masson would later explain that with the end of the war, Surrealism had collapsed. He distanced himself from Breton and retired to Provence.
Spanish (Catalonian) painter and sculptor
Scion of a bourgeois family, Miró entered the La Llotja Art School in Barcelona at age fourteen. From 1912-15 he studied at Francesc Galí's Escola d'Art, where Galí opened his students' eyes to modern Spanish and French art and architecture.
Miró's first, unsuccessful, show was held in 1918 at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona. An acquaintance with Francis Picabia encouraged him to move in 1919 to Paris, where he found a neighbor and friend in Masson.
The artist's earliest paintings were still strongly shaped by the rural Catalan tradition. Despite their richly detailed, well-nigh naive style, a quite irrational interpretation of landscape is recognizable. The separate figures, animals, plants are divorced from their natural circumstances and become surrealistic creatures.
In 1925 Miró altered his style, adding script to his compositions, turning objects into signs, and reducing human figures, animals and heavenly bodies to poetic abbreviations.
He met Breton as early as 1924. Breton was enthusiastic about Miró's "spontaneity of expression", acquired numbers of his works, and reproduced his paintings in the Surrealist journals. One of the most significant artists of modernism, along with Max Ernst Miró can be called one of the major painters in the orbit of Surrealism. It was also characteristic of him that throughout his life he remained too independently-minded to associate himself entirely with any movement and always retained a certain distance. He participated in key Surrealist exhibitions, including the first important postwar show at Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1947.
German-Swiss painter and sculptor
On behest of Alberto Giacometti, Meret Oppenheim joined the Surrealist group in Paris in 1932, and participated in 1933 in the "Salon des surindépendants." She was one of the very few women who was accepted and respected as an artist in this male-dominated movement. Oppenheim's legendary Surrealist objects include Déjeuner en fourrure, 1936, and Ma gouvernante - My Nurse - mein Kindermädchen, 1936/1967, both of which were included that same year in the "Exposition surréaliste d'objets" at Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris.
In the course of the Second World War she distanced herself from the Paris group. Around 1956 Oppenheim returned to Surrealist themes and, in 1959-60, participated in the large "Exposition inteRatiOnal du Surréalisme" (EROS) at Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. As a young Surrealist she also played an important role as a model, as in Man Ray's 1933-34 photo sequence Erotique voilée.
French painter and graphic artist
Picabia attended the École des Arts Décoratifs from 1895-97. In the early 1910s he shared Duchamp's enthusiasm for "the mechanical." After a brief stay in Barcelona, where he founded the Dada journal 291, Picabia settled in Paris in 1917. Influenced by the Dada aesthetic, he created portraits in the form of collages of diverse materials, such as toothpicks, buttons, etc. on canvas. In 1924 Picabia began to devote himself entirely to painting and developed a series titled Transparences. In these surrealistically alienated compositions he superimposed portraits of individuals and figures, including some from the history of art. At the same time he turned to the technique of automatic painting.
As a graphic artist, Picabia contributed to the design of the Surrealist journal Littérature. As early as the end of the 1920s he began to withdraw from the inner circle of the group, becoming increasingly interested in photography and film. Around 1945 Picabia once again adopted a more abstract approach.
Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker and stage set designer
With his Cubist works Picasso created an essential foundation for modern art, including Surrealism. From 1924 to 1934 he was himself intensively involved in the Surrealist movement, an involvement attested to in many ways by the art of this period. Yet Picasso never considered himself a true member of Breton's group, instead retaining his independence, even during his Surrealist phase. One of Breton's demands in particular went too far for him – that the unconscious mind become the sole arbiter and motor of artistic activity. Not believing in this sort of "automatism", Picasso maintained his own approach to the surreal. As he once said, it was important to him "not to lose sight of nature." His concern was with a "deeper resemblance that is more real than reality and thus achieves the surreal." In the years 1935 to 1939, in view of the rise of fascism, Picasso's Surrealism increasingly took on a new thrust, in which political commitment and poetic revolution were combined.
American photographer and painter
A son of Russian immigrants in Philadephia, Man Ray studied architecture and then turned to painting. In 1915 he began to photograph his own paintings. He began portraying members of high society, at first free of charge then professionally, and became a fashion photographer with Poiret. In 1915 he befriended Duchamp, and followed him to Paris in 1921.
From 1918 to 1920 Man Ray formulated his ideas with the aid of objects, transforming human bodies into mechanical constructions and, vice versa, animating everyday things. Beginning in 1922 he developed "rayography", a process for which no camera was required, involving placing objects on photo paper and exposing thems, creating shadowy forms and patterns. His collection of rayograms, Les champs délicieux, is considered a photographic counterpart to Breton's "automatic writing."
Between 1923 and 1929 Man Ray made five films: Anémic Cinéma, Retour à la raison, Emak Bakia, L'Etoile de mer, and Le mystère du château de dés. His hoped-for career as a film-maker foundered on the Surrealists' lack of recognition and on the predominance of the films of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. Man Ray is viewed as one of the most significant photographers of the twentieth century.
French painter and printmaker
Tanguy's decision to become an artist was triggered by a 1923 visit to a show of works by Giorgio de Chirico at Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris. By way of the journal La révolution surréaliste, published from 1924-29, he found his way to Surrealism. After a few of what Werner Spies has termed "pseudo-naive" attempts à la Picabia, the self-taught Tanguy began to work out his own language, which brought together visual experiences with set pieces from the realm of dreams. His mature period is characterized by imaginary landscapes that recall endless beaches, populated by sculptural elements reminiscent of stones or bones by means of which the dreamlike spaces are articulated.
Tanguy emigrated in 1939 to the U.S. and participated in the Surrealists' activities in exile. His new homeland not only rescued the artist from the threat of war but brought new perceptions of space and light.