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Entries in Surrealism (26)


Joan Miró: A Language of His Own

Joan Miró - The Farm. 1921-22 - Oil on canvas - 132 x 147 cm. (52 x 58 in.) The National Gallery of Art - Washington, D.C. (click photo for larger image)Spanish Artist Joan Miró (1893-1983)—discussed elsewhere on What About Art?—was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse, and in 1920 he moved to Paris. Under the influence of Surrealist artists, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line. He was generally thought of as a Surrealist because of his interest in automatism and the use of sexual symbols. But, Miró rejected membership to any artistic movement in the interwar European years. This strong individualistic streak benefited Miró and accommodated his uniqueness well. He also remained deeply connected to his Catalan roots and would eventually split his year between living in France and his homeland.

Miró’s work featured here presents a view of the artist's masia or "family farm," filled with animals, farm implements, plants, and evidence of human activity. Miró explained, "The Farm was a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything I loved about the country into that canvas - from a huge tree to a tiny snail." The intensity of vision and almost maniacal attention to detail gives the work the quality of a memory reconfigured in a dream, and prefigures his later Surrealist work. Art critic Laura Cummings wrote, "every entity is given its own autonomous space in the picture, separately praised but connected by rhyming shapes," due to the "quasi-cubist space, tilted upright; and presumably because Miró is celebrating the thriving upward growth of home." 

The artist considered this work among his most important, marking a turning point. While reflecting a number of influences, including Catalan folk art, a Romanesque sense of hierarchy where scale reflects importance, and a Cubist vocabulary. 

After completing The Farm, Miró struggled to find a buyer in a Parisian modern art market that preferred Cubism. One dealer suggested cutting it into several smaller paintings for ease of sale. Fortunately, the artist had become friends with the writer Ernest Hemingway, then a struggling unknown, and, after hours of working the two would meet for boxing sessions to unwind. Hemingway was determined to buy The Farm and, after borrowing money and working as a grocery clerk, was able to purchase it. He kept it throughout his life and wrote, "I would not trade it for any picture in the world. It has in it all that you feel about Spain when you are there and all that you feel when you are away and cannot go there.”


Giacometti: An Existentialist 

Alberto Giacometti - Three Men Walking - 1949 - Bronze - 30 1/8 x 13 x 12 3/4 in. (76.5 x 33 x 32.4 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkSwiss artist Alberto Giacometti  (1901-1966) had a remarkable career that traced the shifting enthusiasms of European art before and after the Second World War. As a Surrealist in the 1930s, he devised innovative sculptural forms, sometimes reminiscent of toys and games. As an Existentialist after the war, he led the way in creating a style that summed up the philosophy's interests in perception, alienation and anxiety.

In the late 1930s, Giacometti abandoned both abstraction and Surrealism, becoming more interested in how to represent the human figure in a convincing illusion of real space. He wanted to depict figures in such a way as to communicate a perceptual sense of spatial distance, so that viewers, might share in the artist's own sense of distance from his subject. The solution he arrived at involved whittling the figures down to the slenderest proportions.

Giacometti’s Surrealist works influenced such sculptors as Henry Moore (discussed elsewhere on What About Art?). His figurative work was instrumental in re-establishing the figure as a viable motif in the post-war period, at a time when abstract art dominated. 

“The rough, eroded, heavily worked surfaces of "Three Men Walking (II)" [featured here] typify his technique. Reduced, as they are, to their very core, these figures evoke lone trees in winter that have lost their foliage. Within this style, Giacometti would rarely deviate from the three themes that preoccupied him—the walking man; the standing, nude woman; and the bust—or all three, combined in various groupings.” (


André Masson: Exquisite Forms

André Masson - Ibdès de Aragon - 1935 - Oil on canvas - 743 x 1660 x 54 mm - Tate Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)André Masson (1896-1987) was a French painter, sculptor, illustrator, designer and writer. He began the study of art at age eleven.

Masson initially experimented with Cubism but later became more heavily involved with Surrealism. He embraced the idea of automatic drawing, which was a form of spontaneous composition intended to express impulses and images arising directly from the unconscious.  Eventually, however, he found that practice too restrictive. “A natural draftsman, he used sinuous, expressive lines to delineate biomorphic forms that border on the totally abstract. 

Masson made a series of paintings of Spanish landscapes from 1934 to 1936, when he was living in Catalonia, including the one featured here, of Ibdes, a village in Aragon.


Jean Arp: Making Something from Something…

Jean Arp - Torso, Navel, Mustache-Flower - 1930 - Oil on wood relief - 31 1/2 x 39 3/8 x 1 1/2 in. (80 x 100 x 3.8 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (click photo for larger image)German-French artist Jean Arp (also known as Hans Arp 1886-1966) could turn anything into a work of art—and that’s exactly what he did!

Although his work is non-representational, it is all rooted in nature and very organic in form. He was also one of the first artists to let chance and randomness become part of his work.

Arp is best known for his multilayered, painted wood reliefs. By the time Arp created the work featured here, he had already perfected his assemblage technique: he drew designs on cardboard templates and had a carpenter execute them in wood. 

Arp was born in Alsace and studied at the Strasbourg School of Arts and Crafts, at Weimar (1905-7) and the Academie Julian, Paris (1908).  In 1912 he went to Munich where he knew Kandinsky and exhibited semi-figurative drawings at the second Blaue Reiter exhibition in 1912. In 1913 he exhibited with the Expressionists at the first Hebrstsalon (Autumn Salon) in Berlin. Aware of the developments within the French avant-garde through his contacts with such figures as Apollinaire, Max Jacob and Robert Delaunay, Arp exhibited his first abstracts and paper cutouts in Zurich in 1915, and began making shallow wooden reliefs and compositions of string nailed to canvas. In 1916 he was a founding member of Dada in Zurich, and he participated in the Berlin Dada exhibition of 1920. Arp is also associated with the Surrealist movement.


Salvador Dali: The Paranoia-Critical Method

Salvador Dali - Swans Reflecting Elephants -1937 - Oils on canvas - 51 cm × 77 cm (20.08 in × 30.31 in) - Private Collection (click photo for larger image)The painting featured here is from what is known as Salvador Dali’s (1904-1989) “paranoiac-critical period”. It contains one of Dali's famous double images. Dali's "paranoia-critical method" was discussed in his 1935 essay entitled "The Conquest of the Irrational." He explained the process as a "spontaneous method of irrational understanding based upon the interpretative critical association of delirious phenomena." Dali used this method to represent the hallucinatory forms, double images and visual illusions that filled his paintings during the 1930s. 

Swans Reflecting Elephants uses the reflection in a lake to create the double image seen in the painting. “The three swans in front of bleak, leafless trees are reflected in the lake so that the swans' heads become the elephants' heads and the trees become the bodies of the elephants. In the background of the painting is a Catalonian landscape depicted in fiery fall colors, the brushwork creating swirls in the cliffs that surround the lake, to contrast with the stillness of the water.”