Hans Bellmer was the great obsessional artist of Surrealism. In 1932 he began to devote himself almost exclusively to the creation of an “artificial daughter,” triggered not least by seeing a performance of Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffmann, the story of the mechanical puppet Olympia and her admirer. Bellmer was intrigued by a number of Surrealist themes: the motifs of the doppelgänger, deception, passion and demise. In this, one of the most important of Surrealist objects, the body becomes a thing, yet one that contains the possibility of an endless transformation.
The Doll triggered both horror and delight among the Surrealists, as they understood the metamorphosis of the human body as a stage in the cycle of life and death.
La ville entière
The Entire City
Max Ernst was one of the most fascinating personalities in the Paris Surrealist group. With his extremely diverse oeuvre he considerably expanded the possibilities open to art, and his experimentation with various materials and techniques led to exciting discoveries. In the majestic The Entire City, he depicts an enigmatic landscape with an imposing urban architecture that extends in several levels over a hill. An enormous yellow-green planet stands in the sky, and in the foreground - in extreme close-up - an impenetrable jungle of grasses proliferates. This composition combines not only near and far but various times or eras. The city is reminiscent of an archaelogical site, a lost civilization with its archaic temples. Yet perhaps the image actually represents a vision of the future. At any rate, it is a treasure trove of the imagination, an architecture of dreams. Ernst was a master of this mode. He permits us as viewers to share his visions with him, virtually lending us his own dreams and inviting us to explore them like some unknown and exotic landscape.
La Clef des songes
The Interpretation of Dreams
A picture like an illusory window, in whose openings six objects are visible. Each of these is associated with a word that conventionally has nothing in common with the object represented. On the one hand, Magritte’s painting addresses the independence of objects from the words that describe them, and on the other, it demonstrates how thought is determined by language. Also, the picture’s title recalls Sigmund Freud’s essay On the Interpretation of Dreams, although Magritte himself tended to be critical of psychoanalysis. Freud was one of the first to point out the relativity of the link between object and concept, which until then had been taken for granted. In the unconscious mind, an object defined by a certain word can mean something entirely different. So why shouldn’t it be admissible, in Magritte’s way of thinking, to associate the Other with names that are conventionally considered false?
Peinture (Le cheval de cirque)
Painting (Circus Horse)
The Catalonian artist Joan Miró moved in the circle of the Paris Surrealists from the early 1920s onwards. In the eyes of André Breton, he was "the most Surrealistic of us all," despite the fact that Miró declined to entirely subject the creative process to the dictates of the unconscious mind.
In 1927 he created a series of vertical-format compositions with a brilliant blue background, including Peinture (Le cheval de cirque). The image is a sort of rebus that oscillates between a humorous portrait and a delicate balancing act among the elements. The central motif is a crack of the whip that runs diagonally through the picture. The tip of the yellow whip forms a wavy line moving upwards and taming the circus horse of the title. At the same time, it connects with the face of the clownish animal handler, whose eyes, surrounded by white make-up, balance on a fine vertical line on the red, sickle-shaped mouth.
L’atelier du peintre (La fenêtre ouverte)
The Artist’s Studio (The Open Window)
Picasso was closely associated with Surrealism from 1924 to 1934. Still, he rejected Breton’s basic demand that the process of creation be subjected to the workings of the unconscious mind. He wanted, as he once said, “not to lose sight of nature.” The present masterwork exemplifies Picasso’s approach to Surrealism. Quite in keeping with Surrealist ideas, the picture itself functions as an open window. Yet unlike Dalí’s, this window does not open out on a dreamlike scene. What is surreal
here is above all the interior, the studio proper. This universe composed of painter, model and furnishings is distilled into signlike objects. These, however, serve as an expression of the artist’s view of the world and its presence in the work of art. In Picasso’s hands, one might say, Surrealism is not so much a single language as one of several dialects the artist mastered.