Surrealism . Artistic and literary movement that emerged in France from Dadaism , in the first quarter of the 20th century, around the personality of the poet André Breton . He sought to discover a truth, with automatic writing, without rational corrections, using images to express his emotions, but never following a logical reasoning.


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  • 1 Origin of the term
  • 2 Etymology
  • 3 Precedents
  • 4 First steps
  • 5 Surrealism at the service of the revolution
  • 6 Surreal techniques
  • 7 Surreal painting
  • 8 The heyday and decline of surrealism
  • 9 Surrealism in the world
    • 1 Surrealism in Hispanic literature
  • 10 Surrealism in history
    • 1 In the plastic arts
    • 2 In the audiovisual media
  • 11 Source

Origin of the term

The terms surrealism and surrealism come from Guillaume Apollinaire , who coined them in 1917 . In the playbill he wrote for the musical Parade (May 1917) he claims that its authors have achieved:

An alliance between painting and dance , between plastic and mimetic arts, which is the herald of a broader art yet to come. (…) This new alliance (…) has given rise, in Parade, to a kind of surrealism , which I consider the starting point for a whole series of manifestations of the “New Spirit” that is making itself felt today and that it will certainly attract the best minds. We can expect it to bring about profound changes in the arts and customs through universal joy, for it is simply natural, after all, that they keep pace with scientific and industrial progress .

The word surrealist appears in the subtitle of Las boobs de Tiresias (surrealist drama), in June 1917, to refer to the creative reproduction of an object, which transforms and enriches it. As Apollinaire writes in the preface to the drama:

When man wanted to imitate the action of walking, he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg. In the same way he has unconsciously created surrealism … After all, the stage does not resemble life that represents more than a wheel on one leg.


In French: surréalisme ; [ South on above] more réalisme [ realism ]) or superrealismo.


The surrealist goal and its means date back centuries before the birth of the movement. It is enough to quote Hieronymus Bosch “el Bosco”, considered the first surrealist artist, who in the 15th and 16th centuries created works such as “The Garden of Earthly Delights” or “The Hay Wagon”. But it was in the 20th century when the birth of a philosophical and artistic avant-garde would emerge that would take up these elements and develop them as never before.

First steps

The first historical date of the movement is 1916 , the year in which André Breton , forerunner, leader and great thinker of the movement, discovered the theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Jarry , in addition to meeting Jacques Vache and Guillaume Apollinaire .

During the following years there is a confusing encounter with Dadaism , an artistic movement preceded by Tristan Tzara , in which the ideas of both movements are decanted. These, one inclined towards nihilistic destruction (Dada) and the other towards Romantic construction (Surrealism) served as catalysts between them during their development.

In 1924 , Breton wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto and it included the following:

It indicates very bad faith to discuss the right to use the word surrealism, in the particular sense that we give it, since no one can doubt that this word had no fortune, before we made use of it. I’m going to define it once and for all:

Surrealism: “noun, masculine. Pure psychic automatism, through which an attempt is made to express, verbally, in writing or in any other way, the real functioning of thought. It is a dictation of thought, without the regulatory intervention of reason, alien to any aesthetic or moral concern. “

Such was the definition of the term given by Breton and Soupault themselves in the first Surrealist Manifesto dated 1924 . Therefore, it emerged as a poetic movement, in which painting and sculpture are conceived as plastic consequences of poetry.

In Surrealism and Painting , from 1928 , Breton exposes surrealist psychology: the unconscious is the region of the intellect where the human being does not objectify reality but forms a whole with it. Art, in this sphere, is not representation but direct vital communication of the individual with the whole.

This connection is expressed in a privileged way in significant coincidences (objective chance), in which the desire of the individual and the becoming alien to him unpredictably converge, and in dreams, where the most disparate elements are revealed united by secret relationships. Surrealism proposes to transfer these images to the world of art through a free mental association, without the censoring interference of consciousness.

Hence, he chooses automatism as his method, largely picking up the witness of spiritistic mediumistic practices, although radically changing his interpretation: what speaks through the medium is not the spirits, but the unconscious.

During feverish sessions of automatism, Breton and Soupault wrote The Magnetic Fields , the first sample of the possibilities of automatic writing, which they published in 1921 . Later Breton publishes Soluble Fish . The end of the seventh story says thus: “Here I am, in the corridors of the palace where everyone is asleep. Isn’t the green of sadness and rust the song of the sirens?”

Surrealism at the service of the revolution

As of 1925 , as a result of the outbreak of the war in Morocco , surrealism became politicized; Then the first contacts with the communists took place, culminating that same year with the accession to the Communist Party by André Breton .

Between 1925 and 1930 a new newspaper appeared entitled Surrealism at the service of the Revolution, in the first issue of which Louis Aragón , Luis Buñuel , Salvador Dalí , Paul Éluard , Max Ernst , Yves Tanguy and Tristan Tzara , among others, declared themselves supporters of Breton.

For their part, Jean Arp and Joan Miró , although they did not share the political decision taken by Breton, they continued to participate with interest in the surrealist exhibitions. Shortly after, René Magritte ( 1930 ), André Masson ( 1931 ), Giacometti and Brauner in 1933 and also Roberto Matta (who met Breton in 1937 through Salvador Dalí ) and Wilfredo Lam joined ; The movement went international with surrealist groups appearing in the United States , Denmark , London , Czechoslovakia, andJapan .

From this moment, a dispute, often bitter, will open between those surrealists who conceive of surrealism as a purely artistic movement, rejecting subordination to communism, and those who accompany Breton in his turn to the left.

In 1929 Breton published the Second Surrealist Manifesto , in which he condemned, among other intellectuals, the artists André Masson and Francis Picabia. In 1936 he expelled Dalí for his fascist tendencies and Paul Eluard. In 1938 Breton signed in Mexico together with León Trotski and Diego Rivera the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art .

Surreal techniques

Surrealism took from Dada some photography and cinematography techniques as well as the manufacture of objects. They extended the principle of collage (the “found object”) to the assembling of incongruous objects, as in the visible poems of Max Ernst . The latter invented frottage (drawings made by rubbing rough surfaces against paper or canvas) and applied it in great works such as Natural History , painted in Paris in 1926 .

Another of the new activities created by surrealism was the so-called exquisite corpse, in which several artists drew the different parts of a figure or a text without seeing what the previous one had done by passing the folded paper. The resulting creatures could serve as an inspiration to Miró.

In the literary field, surrealism was a great revolution in language and the contribution of new compositional techniques. As it did not assume any cultural tradition, neither from the thematic nor the formal point of view, it dispensed with the meter and adopted the type of poetic expression known as a verse: a verse of indefinite length without rhyme that is sustained only by the internal cohesion of its rhythm. .

Likewise, as the consecrated theme was not assumed, they went to look at the sources of psychological (dreams, sexuality) and social repression, with which the lyric was rehumanized after the intellectualized isms of the Vanguards dehumanized it, with the exception of Expressionism . For this they used the resources of dream transcription, automatic writing and generated new metaphorical procedures such as the visionary image.

The language was also renewed from the point of view of the lexicon, making room for new semantic fields and the rhetoric was enriched with new expressive procedures.

Surreal painting

Masson quickly adopted the techniques of automatism, around 1923 – 1924 , shortly after meeting Breton. Around 1929 he abandoned them to return to a cubist style. For his part, Dalí used more the fixation of images taken from dreams, according to Breton, “… abusing them and endangering the credibility of surrealism …”; he invented what he himself called the paranoiac-critical method , a mixture of Leonardo da Vinci’s observation technique by means of which, observing a wall, one could see forms and frottage techniques emerge ; The result of this technique are the works in which two images are seen in a single configuration.

Óscar Domínguez invented the decalcomanía (apply black gouache on a paper which is placed on top of another sheet on which a slight pressure is exerted, then they peel off before they dry). In addition to the aforementioned techniques of decalcoming and frottage , the Surrealists developed other procedures that also include chance: scraping, ” fumage ” and the distribution of sand on the glued canvas.

Miró was for Breton the most surrealist of all, for his pure psychic automatism. His surrealism unfolds between the first works where he explores his childhood dreams and fantasies ( The Laborer Field ), the works where automatism is predominant ( Birth of the world ) and the works in which he develops his sign language and biomorphic forms ( Character launching a stone ).

Jean Arp combines automatism and dream techniques in the same work, developing an iconography of organic forms that has come to be called biomorphic sculpture , in which he tries to represent the organic as a formative principle of reality.

René Magritte endowed surrealism with a conceptual charge based on the play of ambiguous images and their meaning denoted through words, questioning the relationship between a painted object and the real one. Paul Delvaux charges his works with a thick eroticism based on his character of estrangement in the spaces of Giorgio di Chirico .

Surrealism penetrated the activity of many European and American artists at different times. Pablo Picasso allied himself with the surrealist movement in 1925 ; Breton declared this approach of Picasso calling it “… surreal within cubism …”.

The works of the Dinard period (1928-1930) are considered surrealist, in which Picasso combines the monstrous and the sublime in the composition of gigantic and sometimes terrifying-looking half-machine, half-monster figures. This surreal monumentality of Picasso can be put in parallel with that of Henry Moore .

Other pictorial movements were born from surrealism, or prefigure it, such as Art brut .

The heyday and decline of surrealism

In 1938 the International Exposition of Surrealism took place in Paris, marking the heyday of this movement before the war. Among others, Marcel Duchamp, Arp, Salvador Dalí , Ernst, André Masson , Man Ray , Óscar Domínguez and Meret Oppenheim participated . The exhibition offered the public above all an excellent sample of what surrealism had produced in the manufacture of objects.

With the outbreak of World War II , the surrealists disperse, some of them ( André Breton , Ernst, Masson left Paris and moved to the United States , where they sowed the seeds for future postwar American movements ( Abstract Expressionism and Art Pop ).

Surrealism in the world

Surrealism in Spanish painting

In Spain, surrealism appears around the twenties, not in its purely avant-garde aspect but mixed with symbolist accents and popular painting. In addition to Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, Spanish surrealism is made up of Maruja Mallo, Gregorio Prieto, José Moreno Villa, Benjamín Palencia and José Caballero, in addition to the neo-Cubists who move to surrealism (Alberto Sánchez and Angel Ferrant), and some pictorial creations Juveniles of Modesto Ciruelos and his “Circus Series” presented at the Brief Academy of Art Criticism of Eugenio D´Ors in Madrid in 1947 .

There was an important surrealistic nucleus in the Canary Islands , grouped around the Gaceta de Arte of Eduardo Westerdahl , with painters like Oscar Domínguez or the own Westerdahl and a group of poets André Breton invited to come in 1935; There he composed the poem Le chateau etoilé and other works. Much later, in 1997 and 1998, the painter Estéfano Viu takes up these trends in the Canary Islands.

In Latin America, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington are considered surrealists, in addition to the aforementioned Matta and Lom .

Surrealism in Hispanic Literature

Surrealism was followed with interest by the Spanish intellectuals of the 30s. There was the precedent of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, who used some formulas linked to surrealism, such as the greguería.

The first to adopt his methods was José María Hinojosa, author of La flor de California ( 1928 ), a pioneering book of narrative and dreamlike prose.

Several poets of the generation of 27 were interested in the expressive possibilities of surrealism. His imprint is evident in books such as the third section of On the Angels and in Sermons and Houses by Rafael Alberti ; in Poet in New York by Federico García Lorca and A river, a love and Los placeres prohibited by Luis Cernuda . Vicente Aleixandre defined himself as “a super-realistic poet”, although qualifying that his poetry was in no way a direct product of automatic writing.

Miguel Hernández suffered an ephemeral surrealist stage and during the post-war period the surrealist printing press is perceived in the poets of Postismo and in Juan Eduardo Cirlot, today there is a certain post-surrealism in the work of some poets such as Blanca Andreu .

In the Canary Islands, the fondness for surrealism led to the formation in the 30s of the Surrealist Faction of Tenerife , a group of enthusiasts, similar to the one created in France around André Breton . Its members (Agustín Espinosa, Domingo López Torres, Pedro García Cabrera, Óscar Domínguez, Eduardo Westerdahl and Domingo Pérez Minik) presented their creations and points of view in the thirty-eight issues of the Gaceta de Arte magazine .

Although he cannot be considered a strict surrealist, the poet and thinker Juan Larrea experienced first-hand the emergence of the movement in Paris and later reflected on its value and significance in works such as Surrealism between the old and the new world ( 1944 ). At present there is a current of neosurrealism in Blanca Andreu’s poetry.

In Latin America, surrealism had the enthusiastic adhesion of poets such as the Chilean Braulio Arenas and the Peruvians César Moro , Xavier Abril, and Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, in addition to decisively influencing the work of older figures such as Pablo Neruda , Gonzalo Rojas and César Vallejo . In Argentina , despite the disdain of Jorge Luis Borges , surrealism still seduced the young Julio Cortázar and produced late fruit in the work of Alejandra Pizarnik .

His influence on other more recent production authors has also been noted, such as the musician Alejandro de Michele . The Mexican poet and thinker Octavio Paz occupies a particular place in the history of the movement: a personal friend of Breton, he dedicated several enlightening essays to surrealism.

Surrealism in history

In literature, surrealism was preceded by the Pataphysics of Alfred Jarry, and the Dada movement founded in Zurich in 1916 by T. Tzara, H. Ball and H. Arp. Encouraged by the same spirit of provocation, André Breton , Louis Aragon and Ph. Soupault founded the magazine Littérature ( 1919 ) in Paris , while in the USA Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia showed similar attitudes, and in Germany , Max Ernest and Hugo Ball.

This phase was followed by a more methodical attitude of investigation of the unconscious, undertaken by Breton, together with Aragon, Paul Éluard, Soupault, Robert Desnos, Max Ernst, etc. The first work of this trend, which can be described as the first surrealist literary work, was Magnetic Fields ( 1921 ), written jointly by Breton and Soupault.

After the break with Tzara, Antonin Artaud, André Masson and Pierre Naville joined the movement.

Breton wrote the first definition of the movement in his Manifesto of Surrealism ( 1924 ), a text that gave cohesion to the postulates and purposes of the movement. Among the authors he cited as forerunners of the movement were Freud, Lautréamont, Edward Young, Matthew Lewis, Gérard de Nerval, Jonathan Swift, Sade, Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo , Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Jarry.


Surreal Revolution Magazine

In the same year, the Bureau de recherches surréalistes and the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste were founded , replacing Littérature , whose leadership was taken over by Breton himself in 1925 and which became the group’s organ of common expression.

Surrealist production was characterized by a limitless libertarian vocation and the exaltation of dream processes, corrosive humor and erotic passion, conceived as weapons of struggle against the bourgeois cultural tradition. The group’s ideas were expressed through literary techniques such as “automatic writing,” pictorial provocations, and noisy public positions.

The rapprochement that took place in the late 1920s with the communists produced the first quarrels and schisms in the movement.

In 1930 Breton published his Second Manifesto of Surrealism , in which he excommunicated Joseph Delteil, Antonin Artaud , Philippe Soupault, Robert Desnos, Georges Limbour , André Masson , Roger Vitrac , Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Francis Picabia . The same year the new organ of the movement appeared, the magazine Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution , which supplanted the previous one, La Révolution Surréaliste , and in parallel, Aragón (after their trip to the USSR), Éluard, Péret and Breton joined the Communist Party.

In late 1933 , Breton, Éluard, and Crevel were expelled from the party. In the 1930s, Salvador Dalí , Luis Buñuel , Yves Tanguy , René Char and Georges Sadoul joined the movement .

After the years before World War II , marked by the active militancy of Breton, and the years of New York exile of most of its members, during the German occupation of France, the movement continued to maintain a certain cohesion and vitality, but from By 1946 , when Breton returned to Paris , surrealism was already part of history.

In the plastic arts

At first Surrealism is a fundamentally literary movement, and it will not produce great results in the visual arts until a little later. A fundamental concept arises, automatism, based on a kind of magical dictation, coming from the unconscious, thanks to which poems, essays, etc. arose, and which would later be collected by painters and sculptors.

The first surrealist exhibition was held at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925 , and in it, in addition to Jean Arp , Giorgio di Chirico and Max Ernst , artists such as André Masson , Picasso , Man Ray, Pierre Roy , Paul Klee and Joan Miró participated. that later they would separate from the movement or would remain united to it adopting only some of its principles. They were joined by Yves Tanguy , René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti.


Surreal paintings

The rebellion of Surrealism against the bourgeois cultural tradition and the established moral order had its political aspect, and a sector of Surrealism, which did not consider the tumults of its cultural manifestations sufficient, joined the French Communist Party. However, violent disagreements arose within the group regarding the debate on the relationship between art and politics; Contradictory manifestos followed one another and the movement tended to disintegrate.

In this respect, it is significant that the magazine “La révolution surréaliste” has been renamed, since 1930, “Le surréalisme au service de la révolution.” In the 1930s , the movement spread beyond the French borders. The International Surrealist Exhibition was held in 1938 in Paris .

The Second World War paralyzed all activity in Europe . This motivated Breton, like many other artists, to go to the United States . It was there that an association of German and French surrealist painters emerged, which gathered around the magazine VVV. These surrealists emigrated to the US influenced American art, particularly the development of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s . When Breton returned to Europe in 1946 the movement was already definitely in disrepair.

Among visual artists a duality is manifested in the interpretation of surrealism: abstract surrealists, who opt for the application of pure automatism, like André Masson or Joan Miró , and invent their own figurative universes; and the figurative surrealists, interested in the dreamlike way, among them René Magritte , Paul Delvaux, Estéfano Viu or Salvador Dalí , who make use of meticulous realism and traditional technical means, but who depart from traditional painting due to the unusual association of objects and monstrous deformations, as well as the dreamlike and delusional atmosphere that emerges from his works.

Max Ernst is one of the few surrealists who moves between the two tracks. Ernst’s work has particularly influenced a late surrealist epigone in Germany, Stefan von Reiswitz. Another interesting author who is sometimes tangentially close to surrealism is Pablo Alonso Herraiz.

In the audiovisual media

On the cinematographic side, surrealism gave rise to magnificent works, such as La estrella de mar (1928), by M. Ray, or La concha y el clerigo ( 1926 ), by G. Dulac.

Luis Buñuel , in collaboration with Dalí, made the most revolutionary works: An Andalusian dog , Un chien andalou (1928) and the golden age, L’âge d’or ( 1930 ).

Alfred Hitchcock and Salvador Dalí collaborated when the former commissioned the Catalan artist to part of the set design for ” Recuerda ” (Spellbound).

Contemporary filmmakers, such as David Lynch , Jean-Pierre Jeunet , Julio Medem or Carlos Atanes , among others, show the influence of surrealism.


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