Surrealism . Artistic and literary movement 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 which never followed 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 Surrealist painting
  • 8 Apogee and decadence 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 hand program he wrote for the musical Parade (May 1917), he states 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 being felt today and that it will surely 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 take the same step as scientific and industrial progress .

The word surreal appears in the subtitle of The Tits of Tiresias (surreal 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 the man wanted to imitate the action of walking, he created the wheel, which does not look like a leg. In the same way, he has unconsciously created surrealism … After all, the stage is not like 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. Suffice it to mention 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 like never before.

First steps

The movement’s first historical date is 1916 , the year in which André Breton , pioneer, leader and great thinker of the movement, discovers 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 settled. These, one inclined towards nihilistic destruction (dadá) and the other towards romantic construction (surrealism) served as catalysts between them during their development.

In the year 1924 , Breton wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto and in this he included the following:

It is 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 luck, before we made use of it. I’m going to define it once and for all:

Surrealism: “noun, masculine. Pure psychic automatism, by means of which it is attempted to express, verbally, in writing or in any other way, the actual functioning of thought. It is a dictation of thought, without the regulatory intervention of reason, oblivious 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 surreal 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 that 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 individual’s desire and becoming alien to him converge unpredictably, and in the dream, where the most disparate elements are revealed united by secret relationships. Surrealism proposes to transfer these images to the art world through a free mental association, without the censorship intrusion of the conscience.

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

During feverish automatism sessions, Breton and Soupault write The Magnetic Fields , the first sample of the possibilities of automatic writing, which they published in 1921 . Breton later publishes Pez soluble . The end of the seventh story goes like this: “Here I am, in the corridors of the palace where everyone is asleep. Isn’t the green of sadness and rust not the song of sirens?”

Surrealism at the service of the revolution

From 1925 , as a result of the outbreak of the Moroccan war , surrealism became politicized; The first contacts with the communists took place then, culminating that same year with André Breton’s accession to the Communist Party .

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

For their part, Jean Arp and Joan Miró , although they did not share Breton’s political decision, continued to participate with interest in the surrealist exhibitions. Shortly afterwards, 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 on, an often bitter dispute will open between those surrealists who conceive surrealism as a purely artistic movement, rejecting subordination to communism, and those who accompany Breton on 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 Dadaism some photography and cinematography techniques as well as the manufacture of objects. They extended the principle of collage (the “found object”) to the assembly of incongruous objects, as in Max Ernst’s visible poems . The latter invented frottage (drawings made by rubbing rough surfaces against paper or canvas) and applied it to 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 various artists drew the different parts of a figure or text without seeing what the previous one had done by passing the folded paper. The resulting creatures were able to inspire Miró.

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

Likewise, since the consecrated theme was not assumed, he 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 . To do this, they used the resources of dream transcription, automatic writing, and generated new metaphorical procedures such as the visionary image.

Language was also renewed from the point of view of the lexicon, giving way to new semantic fields and 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 jeopardizing the credibility of surrealism …”; He invented what he himself called the paranoid-critical method , a mixture between Leonardo da Vinci’s observation technique by means of which observing a wall one could see how forms and techniques of frottage emerged ; The result of this technique are the works in which two images are seen in a single configuration.

Óscar Domínguez invented the decalcomania (applying black gouache on a paper which is placed on top of another sheet on which light pressure is exerted, then they peel off before they dry). Besides the aforementioned techniques decalcomania and frottage , the surrealists developed other procedures also include random: scraping, ” fumage ” and the distribution of sand on the canvas gluing.

Miró was for Breton the most surreal of all, for his pure psychic automatism. His surrealism unfolds between the first works where he explores his childhood dreams and fantasies ( El Campo labrado ), the works where automatism is predominant ( Birth of the world ) and the works in which he develops his language of signs 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 it is about representing 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, calling into question 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 describing it as “… surreal within cubism …”.

The works of the Dinard period (1928-1930), in which Picasso combines the monstrous and the sublime in the composition of gigantic and sometimes terrifying half-machine-like figures, are considered surreal. This surreal monumentality of Picasso can be paralleled 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 Surrealism Exposition took place in Paris, which marked the apogee of this movement before the war. Among others, Marcel Duchamp, Arp, Salvador Dalí , Ernst, André Masson , Man Ray , Óscar Domínguez and Meret Oppenheim participated . Above all, the exhibition offered the public 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 leave Paris and move to the United States , where they sow the germ for future American post-war movements ( Abstract Expressionism and Art Pop ).

Surrealism in the world

Surrealism in Spanish painting

In Spain, surrealism appeared around the 1920s 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 neocubists who turn 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 by 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, 1997 and 1998 the painter Estéfano Viu resumes these trends in the Canary Islands.

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

Surrealism in Hispanic literature

Surrealism was followed with interest by the Spanish intellectuals of the 1930s. There was a precedent for 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 dream prose.

Several poets of the generation of ’27 were interested in the expressive possibilities of surrealism. Its imprint is evident in books such as in the third section of On Angels and in Sermons and dwellings by Rafael Alberti ; in Poet in New York by Federico García Lorca and Un río, un amor and Los prohibited pleasures by Luis Cernuda . Vicente Aleixandre defined himself as “a superrealist poet”, although qualifying that his poetry was in no way a direct product of automatic writing.

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

In the Canary Islands, a fondness for surrealism led to the formation in the 1930s of the Surrealist Faction of Tenerife , a group of enthusiasts, just like the one created in France around André Breton . Its components (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 the emergence of the movement in Paris firsthand and later reflected on its value and significance in works such as Surrealism between old and new world ( 1944 ). Currently there is a current of neosurrealism in Blanca Andreu’s poetry.

In Latin America surrealism had the enthusiastic support 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 a late fruit in the work of Alejandra Pizarnik .

His influence on other more recently produced authors has also been pointed out, such as the musician Alejandro de Michele . The Mexican poet and thinker Octavio Paz occupies a particular place in the history of the movement: Breton’s personal friend, he dedicated several illuminating essays to surrealism.

Surrealism in history

In literature, surrealism had as antecedent 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 in Paris ( 1919 ), while in the United States Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia displayed 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 The 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 are Freud, Lautréamont, Edward Young, Matthew Lewis, Gérard de Nerval, Jonathan Swift, Sade, Chateaubriand, Víctor Hugo , Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Jarry.

Surrealist Revolution Magazine

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

Surrealist production was characterized by an unlimited 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 loud public stances.

The rapprochement with the Communists in the late 1920s produced the first quarrels and schisms in the movement.

In 1930 Breton published his Second Surrealism Manifesto , 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, Aragon (after his trip to the USSR), Éluard, Péret and Breton joined the Communist Party.

At the end of 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 prior to World War II , marked by Breton’s active militancy, 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 From 1946 , when Breton returned to Paris , surrealism was already part of history.

In the plastic arts

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

The first surreal 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 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 side, and a sector of surrealism, which did not consider the riots of its cultural manifestations to be sufficient, joined the French Communist Party. However, violent discrepancies 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.

It is significant, in this regard, that the magazine “La révolution surréaliste” was renamed, since 1930, “Le surréalisme au service de la révolution”. In the 1930s , the movement spread beyond French borders. The International Surrealist Exposition 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 . There an association of German and French surrealist painters arose, which gathered around the VVV magazine. These surrealists emigrated to the USA influenced American art, particularly the development of abstract expressionism in the 1940s . When Breton returned to Europe in 1946 the movement was already definitely deteriorated.

Between the plastic artists a duality is manifested in the interpretation of surrealism: the 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 dream route, including René Magritte , Paul Delvaux, Estéfano Viu and Salvador Dalí , who use meticulous realism and traditional technical means, but who depart from traditional painting due to the unusual association of objects and the monstrous deformations, as well as the dreamlike and delirious 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 epigone of surrealism in Germany that is Stefan von Reiswitz. Another interesting author who sometimes approaches tangentially to surrealism is Pablo Alonso Herraiz.


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