Between the two World Wars, painting lost some of the raw, modern energy that had characterized it at the beginning of the century. Instead, art was dominated by two rather philosophical movements, Dada and Surrealism—both of which have been treated on What About Art?. This development arose partly as a reaction to the senseless atrocities of World War I. Artists were also becoming introspective, concerned with their own subconscious dreams. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theories were well known by this time, and painters explored their own irrationalities and fantasies in search of a new artistic freedom. But such art—an art of the fantastic—was practiced uninterrupted by artists from the Middle Ages forward—Hieronymus Bosch, Caspar David Friedrich, Francisco de Goya, and Gustave Moreau among them. A noteworthy practitioner of an art of the fantastic from the Modern era was the celebrated naive painter, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). Known as Le Douanier, after a lifelong job in the Parisian customs office, Rousseau is a perfect example of the kind of artist in whom the artists of the day believed: the untaught genius whose eye could see much further than that of the trained artist. The term “art of the fantastic” quite aptly describes the oeuvre of this painter.
Entries in Surrealism (16)
Belorussian born French painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985) composed images based on emotional and poetic associations, rather than on pictorial logic. His early works prefigure the Surrealism with which he’s most closely associated, and are among the first to express a psychic reality. Although critics often complain about the unevenness in quality among Chagall’s work (he produced a great deal of it) it is widely agreed that his art “reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.”
Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) is often labeled as an Expressionist or a Surrealist—he chose not to be associated with any one art movement. However, he assimilated, and even anticipated, most of the major artistic tendencies of his time in his work. Using both representational and abstract approaches, he produced an immense oeuvre of some 9,000 paintings, drawings, and watercolors that embody an amazing variety of styles. His works tend to be small in scale and are remarkable for their delicate nuances of line, color, and tonality. Music figures prominently in his work, and even more so—literature. His art has had a wide and profound influence.
French born American Surrealist Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) created paintings that are immediately recognizable—in his unique style of nonrepresentational surrealism. Although he didn’t enjoy as much fame as some of his contemporaries—Tanguy has been and remains an important influence on later artists.