Guide de visite
Surrealism. Le Grand Jeu

Exhibition Surrealism. Le Grand Jeu
Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne (MCBA)
12.4  — 25.8.2024

In 1924, the first manifesto of Surrealism was published in Paris, laying the foundation for a revolution in art whose effects can still be felt today. Challenging the reign of reason following the disaster of the first worldwide armed conflict, André Breton ardently called for reconciling dreams and reality.

Play was front and centre in this undertaking. Initially an informal activity that served as the glue holding together Surrealist sociability, play crystallised the birth of a collective mindset defined by a reversal of traditional values, putting the old rules in the dock and inventing new ways of making art.

Focusing on historical Surrealism, the first floor spotlights various aspects of play, whether recreational, subversive, or poetic, while showing the extent to which it formed a way of being in the world. The exhibition continues on the second floor where contemporary artists have revived the burst of creativity associated with this anarchic spirit that upended our way of imagining the body, language, and objects in their infinite capacity to be transformed.

1st Floor

Creative Strategies

Chess is able to absorb its players to the point of rendering the world they are living in abstract. As such, chess played a significant role in the ideological and aesthetic revolutions that occurred in the early years of the 20th century. Much more than pure entertainment for the mind, chess pieces point to an ideal that reflects the real world, serving as allegory for a range of human activities, whether the workings of society, military strategy, or romantic skirmishes.

Through the combination of random and predictable elements, chess becomes a metaphor of the Surrealist strategy. While Marcel Duchamp thought of it as a game played against the computer before computers existed, Man Ray tried out his automatism strategy of “disinterested thinking” on the chessboard.

Chess is the starting point of this section of the exhibition which reflects Surrealism’s craze for creative strategies, from automatism to children’s games.


“Chess in itself is a hobby, is a game. Everybody can play chess. But I took it very seriously and enjoyed it because I found some common points between chess and painting. When you play a game of chess, it is like designing something or constructing some mechanism of some kind by which you win or lose. The competitive side of it has no importance. The thing itself is very very plastic. That is probably what attracted me in the game.”
Marcel Duchamp

The most passionate chess player in the Surrealist milieu was Marcel Duchamp. For him the beauty of chess can be found more in what he refers to as “the grey matter” than in the realm of the observable, leading the way to a conceptual approach to art. Based on a geometrical structure that points to an infinite number of combinations, chess becomes a metaphor of the quest for artistic perfection.


“We were simultaneously recipients of and contributors to the joy of watching the sudden appearance of creatures we had not foreseen, but which we had created nonetheless.”
Simone Breton

Just like the exploration of dreams, Surrealist automatism represents a way of freeing the mind and calling into question the rationalism of the modern world. Unconscious artmaking, like scribbling, was a catalyst for many artists who used the process of improvisation when working.

While automatism had its emblematic incarnation in the exquisite corpse, it also generated many inventive practices beyond line drawing, including experimental film and photography techniques verging on pure reflex and hallucination. In their 1924 manifesto, the Surrealists described themselves as “modest recording devices”.

Children’s games

“The mind which plunges into Surrealism relives with glowing excitement the best part of its childhood… From childhood memories, and from a few others, there emanates a sentiment of being unintegrated and then later of having gone astray, which I hold to be the most fertile that exists. It is perhaps childhood that comes closest to one’s ‘real life’… Thanks to Surrealism, it seems that opportunity knocks a second time.”
André Breton

The Surrealists thought that children, still spared the effects of society, possess a more direct access to the unconscious than adults. Maintaining the myth of naivety and spontaneity, these artists were
fascinated by the figure of the prodigy and made going back to childhood one of their artmaking strategies.

In the early 1930s, Gisèle Prassinos, who was then all of fourteen years old, stirred interest amongst the Surrealists for her poetic compositions that were done using automatic writing. With her brother, the painter Mario Prassinos, she became involved in an intense creative dialogue in which an often cruel sense of humour surfaces again and again. Starting in the 1940s, the Belgian painter Rachel Baes peopled her world with disturbing-looking little girls plunged in a phantasmagorical world.

Le Grand Jeu

“Le Grand Jeu is irreversible; it is played only once. We wish to play it every moment of our lives.”
Roger Gilbert-Lecomte

In 1923 in Reims, four sixth-formers searching for the absolute, René Daumal, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Vailland, and Robert Meyrat, formed a group they called “Phrères simplistes” (Simplistic Brodders). Their goal was to recapture the simplicity of childhood and its possibilities of intuitive, spontaneous knowledge, and they experimented with practicesinvolving extrasensory artmaking and telepathic explorations through the use of drugs.

Claiming to fashion their day and age, they saw themselves at first in Breton’s Surrealism before revealing their singularity in the short-lived publication Le Grand Jeu, which came out in three issues from 1928 to 1930. The Czech-born painter Joseph Sima, the draughtsman and poet Maurice Henry, and the photographer Artür Harfaux rallied to their cause.

The magic of the image

Fleeing Nazi occupation, a group of Surrealist artists took refuge in the hills overlooking Marseille at the Villa Air-Bel in the winter of 1940–1941. While waiting for visas to leave France for the United States, they invented a card game, known since then in French as the “Jeu de Marseille”. The traditional suits take on a symbolic dimension. Clubs become the black keyhole of Knowledge; diamonds, the red stain of blood of the Revolution; spades, the black star of Dreams; and hearts, the red flame of Love. The hierarchy is also turned upside down. The King, the Queen, and the Jack become the Genius, the Siren, and the Magician.

The Surrealists often found inspiration in occult symbolism and cultivated the traditional image of the artist as magician, clairvoyant, and alchemist, viewing magic as both poetic discourse and deeply philosophical, linked to a form of individual emancipation. Substituting new images for the old ones, the Jeu de Marseille embodies the starting point of this section, which explores the central role esotericism played in the movement’s development.

A changing world

“Further away I noticed a goddess sitting cross-legged with her back to a cliff, the water at its base circling her loins. A passing giant smudged away her clavicles; her right breast detached itself, slithered down her torso, its tubular nipple pointing towards the lake, flopped in and melted.”
Ithell Colquhoun

The creation of new archetypes from ancient myths was a constant feature of Surrealist’s work. This imaginary world is peopled with hybrid beings, flowerinsects, and animal-plants, caught in a process of transformation. This reflects the intuited notion of a deep unity in nature, where forms and beings coexist and complement each other. Landscapes take on bodily shapes, portraits morph into landscapes, puppets come alive, flesh becomes stone, while in a play of fantastical reflections, a swan turns into an elephant.


From the very first in Surrealism, anarchism and esotericism were closely linked. Challenging the established order involved the advent of magical forces that were directly connected with the unconscious. Many artists used this as their preferred way of perceiving theworld, though without adhering to some sort of belief or transcendence. Creating enigmatic images drew on extreme contrasts of form and scale, or integrating elements—illustrations on the face of it— in compositions which are anything but rational.

The mysteries of the occult

“Magic was a stimulus to thinking. It freed man from fears, endowed him with a feeling of his power to control the world, sharpened his capacity to imagine, and kept awake his dreams of higher achievement.”
-Kurt Seligmann

In 1930, the Second Manifesto of Surrealism summoned the legendary 14th century alchemist Nicolas Flamel. Calling for “the profound, the veritable occultation of Surrealism”, Breton reiterated in the manifesto his fascination with the mysterious and the incommunicable. Artists like Ithell Colquhoun and Kurt Seligmann took their experiments in the realm of the occult to the point of producing anthologies on the subject. Kabbalah, palmistry, tarot cards, even astrology saw a resurgence of interest, generating in their wake coded images that were meant to be deciphered.

Endless play

“A throw of the dice will never abolish chance.”
Stéphane Mallarmé

Playing with dice led the Surrealists into the realm of chance. By imagining the blank face of a die they ventured into the limitless playing field of the white page, of the nothingness where everything
ends and everything begins anew.

Made up of twenty poem-collages, Georges Hugnet’s book La septième face du dé (The Seventh Face of the Die, 1936) is emblematic of this speculative dimension in Surrealism, connecting eroticism and metaphysics. The cover of the book features a reproduction of Marcel Duchamp’s Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy? (1921). The latter, a fictional alter ego with a female sounding name akin to “Éros, c’est la vie” (Eros, that’s life), references Duchamp’s autoerotic play with his own work, eventually leading the artist to move beyond gender identities.

Taking off from the central figure of Duchamp and his interest in randomness, and non-retinal art, this section explores Surrealism’s ramifications in the fields of abstraction and eroticism to the point of imagining a possible end to playing and games.

Beyond representation

Reacting to Breton’s injunction in 1942 calling for “absolute automatism”, some artists freed themselves from figurative verisimilitude and turned to abstraction. Resettled in the United States, the French painter Yves Tanguy began a new chapter, painting abstract landscapes suffused with a milky atmosphere, the image of a totally latent world.

Designed to create the illusion of volume, Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs appear in motion in the experimental film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) by the visual artist and filmmaker Hans Richter. While Surrealism was a step toward abstraction for some, many artists never gave up shifting back and forth between the two, seeing nothing incompatible there.

The voices from out of the silence

“What did I so madly hope for? And that madness is my lone power.”
Unica Zürn

Sonja Sekula and Unica Zürn had an experience in common, both having suffered from mental illness which contributed to the marginalisation of their work’s recognition by the art world.

Living and working in New York from 1936 to 1955, Sekula formed connections in the community of expatriate Surrealist artists, which included a rising generation of American Abstract Expressionists. Refusing to adhere to one style alone, she produced works that drew the attention of the critics, who detected the influence of gestural abstraction and Native American art.

Zürn, a German artist who exiled herself to Paris in 1953 alongside her fellow artist Hans Bellmer, shifted  between writing and drawing. Her spiderlike line gives rise to metamorphic creatures, reflections of her fantasies and fears.

Ambivalence of desire

The exploration of the unconscious long enabled the Surrealist artists to question the forms of repression and exclusion dictated by the social conventions then in force. While one part of this output reflects the complex desires of heterosexual male artists and the way they viewed the female body, another addresses more fluid concepts surrounding gender and sexuality.

For example, Pierre Molinier’s provocative staged photographs explore the mysteries of auto-eroticism, while the subversive performance of Barbette, a trapeze artist who passed himself off as a woman when doing his routine, questioned the fixed notions of gender.

In Paris, Irène Zurkinden gave free rein to her female subjectivity in the expression of her intimacy. These images interrogate traditional ideas of privilege and power while representing the artists’ desires and fantasies.

Artworks presented


Suzanne Duchamp, "The Blind Man", 1925


In her portrait of her brother, Marcel Duchamp’s sister depicts him as a blind accordion player, who depends on the charity of passers-by. The title of the picture alludes to the eponymous Dada review published in New York in 1917. During the scandal that erupted when Fountain (1917), the famous urinal submitted by Duchamp, was not shown at the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, the review sided with the fictional creator R. Mutt, whose signature is seen on the readymade. The depiction of the artist as a blindman, a detail that is rich in irony, runs counter to the myth of the visionary artist while giving us a glimpse of the artistic exchanges going on amongst the Duchamp family of artists.

Suzanne Duchamp, The Blind Man, 1925. Oil on canvas, 61 x 50,5 cm. Alychlo/Marc Coucke Art Collection Belgium. © Suzanne Duchamp / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Marcel Duchamp, "Pocket Chess Set", 1944


Marcel Duchamp,

Having announced that he was withdrawing from art in 1923, Marcel Duchamp devoted the following ten years of his life to professional chess tournaments until he earned the title of Master from the French Chess Federation. In 1943, he designed a pocket chess set that allowed a player to train at all times. Planning to market the set to chess enthusiasts with the guarantee that the pieces would stay pinned in place when travelling, he exhibited the prototype in 1944 during The Imagery of Chess show at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York.

Marcel Duchamp, Pocket Chess Set, 1944. Leather pocket chessboard, celluloid, pins, 16,5 x 10,1 cm. Courtesy Collection Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris · Salzburg © Association Marcel Duchamp / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


"Le Grand Jeu" review


Le Grand Jeu, René Daumal, the founder of the review, writes, ‘isn’t a literary, artistic, philosophical, or political review. Le Grand Jeu seeks only the essential.’ An ambitious adventure and an example of the spontaneous generations of the inter-war years, the short-lived experiment of both the group and the review Le Grand Jeu follows in the wake of Rimbaud and the great mystics. The texts, consciously poetic or philosophical in their scope, offered no artistic programme. The group broke up in 1932 and the planned fourth issue then in development was never to see print.

Le Grand Jeu
Number 1, summer 1928
Number 2, spring 1929
Number 3, autumn 1930
3 large in-8 issues, stapled, untrimmed, filled covers. Zurich University Library, general and comparative literary sciences, Giedion-Welcker collection


Maurice Henry


In 1932 Maurice Henry turned away from Le Grand Jeu and began re-associating with the Surrealists. He continued his activities as a cartoonist, journalist, and film critic at the major French reviews while participating as well in the group’s activities. He also worked with Artür Harfaux on numerous screenplays under the name ‘Gagmen Associated’. In cartooning, which until then had been devoted to cheap jokes that took aim at day-to-day middleclass life, Henry introduced the eye-catchingly odd, dreams, and cruelty, thanks to his virtuoso line.


Daumal Drawings


From the very first , Le Grand Jeu, faced two forms of Surrealism, the initial movement, willingly esoteric and anarchistic; and the second group of 1926 and 1929 with its close ties to Communism. Fascinated by the mystical East, René Daumal proved to be akin to the primitive outlook of Antonin Artaud. He was convinced of the West’s decadence and did many drawings that ridicule White men in the context of colonial expansion at its greatest.

René Daumal, Grande Cérémonie magique pour la fin de la colonisation blanche chez les Wolofs, undated. Pencil on paper (recto-verso), 17 x 22 cm. City of Reims, Bibliothèque municipale, Fonds Grand Jeu,


Joseph Sima, "Roger-Gilbert Lecomte dit Roger Gilbert-Lecomte", 1929


Joseph Sima,

In 1930 Joseph Sima showed eleven portraits depicting members of Le Grand Jeu in a solo exhibition entitled L’Énigme de la Face (The Enigma of the Face). Centring the picture on ‘the face’ excludes any reference to a social context, avoiding description in favour of an intense recording of the individual, who appears to loom out of the dark like an apparition. To grasp the enigma of the poet, Sima sought out the spiritualised imprint of the subject’s inner light.

Joseph Sima, Roger-Gilbert Lecomte dit Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, 1929. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims. Gift of Joseph Sima with the assistance of the Société des Amis des Arts et des Musées de Reims, 1963. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Germaine Dulac, "La Coquille et le Clergyman", 1927


Based on a script by Antonin Artaud, the plot of this experimental French film (The Seashell and the Clergyman) flouts chronology. The central theme focuses rather on the lust a clergyman feels for a woman who appears and disappears throughout the film, often accompanied by her lover, a military officer, a character that is simultaneously censorious and castrating. Many of the shots were done using double-exposure and superimposition techniques reminiscent of Surrealist collage. This exploration of visual possibilities through framing, movement, and the play of shadows sought to bring to the screen both the depths of the psyche and the dynamics of desire, order, the taboo, the sacred and repression.

Germaine Dulac, La Coquille et le Clergyman, 1927. 35 mm film transferred in HD, black and white, silent, 40 min. Courtesy Light Cone (Paris)


Lise Deharme et Claude Cahun, "Le Cœur de Pic", 1937


In 1937 Lise Deharme and Claude Cahun worked together on a children’s book whose main character was called Pic. The French title (‘Pic’s Heart’ in English) is a reference to Pushkin’s ‘La Dame de pique’ (‘The Queen of Spades’), the nickname Deharme went by in the Surrealist circle. While Deharme published in a hybrid collection a series of poems akin to a fairy tale on the world of flowers and the animal kingdom, Cahun built miniature photo sets that created little plays in which the toys, food, plants and household objects morph into the characters of the fairy tale. Created by both artists, Le Cœur de Pic is emblematic of Surrealist books, combining literature and visual arts.

Claude Cahun, Lise Deharme, Le Cœur de pic, 1937. Paris, José Corti, 26,8 x 20,6 cm. Chancellerie des Universités de Paris – Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet


Man Ray, "L'écriture automatique ou Séance de rêve éveillé", 1924 (1988)


In the middle of a gathering of men at the Bureau of Surrealist Research on rue de Grenelle in Paris, Simone Breton is seated before a typewriter. The lone woman of the group, she served as the typist, recording one of Robert Desnos’s waking dreams. There is nothing spontaneous about the ‘recording’ here and Man Ray’s staging of the scene becomes the theatre of a dual performance.

Man Ray, L’écriture automatique ou Séance de rêve éveillé, 1924 (1988). Photograph, gelatin silver bromide paper print,b20,6 x 28,6 cm. Photo Elysée Collection. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Communicated Drawings


The principle behind communicated drawings (dessins communiqués) is a variation on the exquisite corpse. The first participant does a drawing that is later concealed so that the following participant reproduces it from memory, and so on. The greater the number of participants, the further the final drawing moves away from the initial contribution. As the image breaks down over the series of drawings, absurd elements appear.

Flora Acker, Anonymous, Kurt Seligmann, André Breton, Esteban Frances, Benjamin Péret, Remedios Varo and Anonymous, Dessins Communiqués, c. 1937-39, Pencil on paper, 40 X 69 cm, Galerie 1900-2000, Paris


‘Cadavres exquis’


Invented by the Surrealists in 1925, exquisite corpse is defined by André Breton in the Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism (1938) in these terms, ‘A game using folded paper in which several people compose a sentence or a drawing without being able to see the preceding collaboration or collaborations.’ ‘Exquisite corpse’ got its name from the very first sentence formed using the technique, ‘The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.’ The game shows a taste for both chance and the uncanny that proved so irresistible to the Surrealists, while also partaking of parlour games and magic.


Gisèle and Mario Prassinos


Born into a Greek family living in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Gisèle Prassinos emigrated to France in 1922. While she was only fourteen years old, her brother, Mario, showed some of her texts to the Surrealists. Composed using the technique of automatic writing, these pieces portray the violence and cruelty of childhood. Very much taken by them, André Breton published her poems in the reviews Minotaure and Documents 34.

Her first collection, La sauterelle arthritique, was published in 1935 with a preface by Paul Eluard and a photograph by Man Ray. Distancing herself from this chapter of her life, she would later say, ‘They intimidated me and treated me a bit like an object… Come to think of it, they didn’t even speak to me directly like a person in her own right… It wasn’t that they were exhibiting me, I illustrated their theory. I was proof that the unconscious exists, and that it can work.’

Gisèle Prassinos also did many drawings. Artistic interactions with her brother, who made a career as a painter, were lasting. They even invented a language, ‘Claude’, in which they wrote each other during significant events.


Rachel Baes, "Le Jardin de Rubens", 1947


A self-taught painter, Rachel Baes stood out as a singular figure of Belgian Surrealism. Following the Second World War, depicting girls and young women in disturbing settings became the preferred subject of her art. The night-time scene captures a moment of cruelty like those that suddenly flare up amongst children, and plays out in a stylised depiction of the garden of the painter Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp. The influence of Flemish primitivism is often felt in the Baes’s work, notably in the treatment of what is called drapery, the folds in the clothing worn by her figures.

Rachel Baes, Le jardin de Rubens, 1947. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. © Collection privée, Ecaussinnes


Gladys Hynes, "Penny for the Guy – the thought that all war is caused by the faceless money men of the City", 1940


Gladys Hynes,

Gladys Hynes was already a recognised artist when Surrealism spread to England. A pacifist and committed feminist, she addressed in her work some of the most controversial questions of her day. With the outbreak of the Second World War, she denounced the ravages of capitalism and the military-industrial complex, as the subtitle of this work makes clear. Straddling the barrel of a cannon, the man, looking like a puppet and dressed in an epauletted military jacket, is a reference to Guy Fawkes. The failure of his plot against the English parliament in the 16th century is celebrated each year with bonfires. After nightfall children ask passers-by for ‘a penny for the guy’ and later burn the effigy.

Gladys Hynes, Penny for the Guy – the thought that all war is caused by the faceless money men of the City, 1940. Oil on panel, 66 x 43 cm. RAW collection


Victor Brauner, "Étude pour Hélène Smith, une des douze figures du Jeu de Marseille", 1941


Victor Brauner,

Of the many things designed, created, or developed at the Villa Air-Bel, the most striking was certainly a card game, the Jeu de Marseille – a nod to the famous ‘tarot cards of Marseille’ that André Breton was studying at the time. Drawing lots was used to determine the design of the different cards. Victor Brauner made those devoted to the German philosopher Hegel and the Genevan medium Elise Müller (1861-1929). She is depicted in the cards and the Siren of Knowledge. Known as Hélène Smith thanks to the work of the psychologist Théodore Flournoy, she became a figure who exercised a fascination over the Surrealists in the 1920s. Breton drew inspiration from her in 1928 for the heroine of his novel Nadja.

Victor Brauner, “Étude pour Hélène Smith, une des douze figures du Jeu de Marseille”, 1941. Pen and black Indian ink, brush, watercolour on paper, 17.6 × 21 cm. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Etienne Métropole. Leg Jacqueline Victor Brauner, 1987 © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Leonor Fini, "L’Argonaute", 1936


Leonor Fini,

Long legs, slim waist, massive head of hair, this idealised self-portrait of the artist doesn’t miss any of the stereotypes, it seems. Leonor Fini’s desire, however, to combine her image with that of fantastic figures is also a way of appropriating their power. In Greek mythology, the Argonauts accompanied Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece. The lone woman in the crew was Atalanta, who refused to wed in order to set off in search of adventure. In a style that Jean Cocteau called ‘unreal realism’, the artist reinvents here a form of heroic representation.

Leonor Fini, L’Argonaute, 1936. Oil on canvas65 x 42 cm. Musée d’art du Valais, Sion. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Claude Cahun, "I am in training, don’t kiss me", c. 1927


‘Neutral is the only gender that always suits me’, Claude Cahun wrote in Aveux non avenus (1930), setting herself apart in this way from the great majority of the Surrealist artists and writers. Her self portraits, which she did with her partner Marcel Moore, often smudge the line separating the sexes. The stereotypes which Cahun draws on allude to the homosexual dandy figure of the late 19th century, as in this famous image where she is holding a dumbbell. In make-up and costume, she gets up a sly game of hide-and-seek with her own image, displaying a complex subjectivity that is forever changing.

Claude Cahun, I am in training, don’t kiss me, circa 1927. Silver exhibition print, 23,7 x 18,3 cm. Musée d’arts de Nantes


Marion Adnams, "Medusa Grown Old", 1947


Marion Adnams,

Living and working in the centre of England, Marion Adnams produced many drawings of the natural objects she found on her walks before putting them in her paintings. It was at that particular moment when they changed scale that they took on a Surreal and mysterious life. She herself describes this transformation as a resurrection of dead, inanimate objects. In 1947 she borrowed a small African sculpture from the town museum in order to study it more closely. ‘One day I made a drawing of her and, when it was finished, dropped it down on the floor by my chair. By chance, it landed on a drawing I had done the day before – a drawing of an ancient English oak tree with gnarled, twisting branches. They framed the head of the African figure, and there she was – Medusa with snakes for hair.’

Marion Adnams, Medusa Grown Old, 1947. Oil on panel, 55 x 39,5 cm. RAW collection


Marie Vassilieff, "Poupées", 1938


Marie Vassilieff,

A figure of the Parisian avant-garde impossible to ignore, Marie Vassilieff began making effigies of her close circle of friends in the late 1910s. Blurring the boundary between art and handicraft, these ‘puppet-portraits’ and their symbolic overtones were inspired by a popular Russian tradition. While some are clearly done in a naturalist vein, the ones depicted here around a little babe make clear the attraction modern artists felt for objects from so-called primitive art that they would remove from their original context and use in their own work. The composition displays a taste for theatrical compositions in the work of an artist who also did set design for the stage.

Marie Vassilieff, Poupées, 1938. Oil on canvas, 85 x 54 cm. RAW collection


René Magritte, "Mouvement perpétuel", 1935


In 1926 René Magritte cofounded with Paul Nougé (1895-1967) Belgian Surrealism with the ‘scientific’ orientation of an art in the service of thought. With Mouvement perpétuel (Perpetual Motion), he extends intellectual play to the popular imagery of the circus with the keen perception that defines his style. In a gesture that is simultaneously absurd and ironic, the strongman hefts a barbell one of whose weights is his own head. De Chirico’s metaphysical influence recedes here in favour of a trompe-l’œil effect based on the painstaking observation of reality. Pushing illusion to its limits, the artist creates the shifting meanings that are so characteristic of his mysterious world.

René Magritte, Mouvement perpétuel, 1935. Oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm. Esther Grether Family Collection. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Ithell Colquhoun, "La Cathédrale Engloutie", 1950


Ithell Colquhoun,

Inspired by ancestral Celtic beliefs, Ithell Colquhoun often depicted the megalithic sites of Cornwall and Brittany, thinking that their builders had chosen to construct them at places with magic powers. La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) was inspired by the stone circles of Er Lannic, a small island in Morbihan. Part of it is submerged at low tide . Colquhoun reckons that ‘the daily immersion of this temple dedicated to the powers of the sea and the earth may have been intended by its builders.’ The title of the work refers to a musical composition by Claude Debussy that was inspired by a Breton legend.

Ithell Colquhoun, La Cathédrale Engloutie, 1950. Oil on canvas, 130,1 x 194,8 cm. RAW collection


Salvador Dalí, "Cygnes reflétant des éléphants", 1937


Salvador Dalí,

Influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, Salvador Dalí forged a creative approach based on the paranoiac critical method that enabled him to channel his delirious associations. An emblematic work by the Catalan painter, Cygnes reflétant des éléphants (Swans Reflecting Elephants) is built around a double image that fuses the swan and the elephant. Besides the optical illusion, Dalí plays on the contrast between the grace of the swan and the weight of the elephant, the calm of the water and the turbulent landscape around it. The theme of the distorting reflection and the questioning of rational perception that such a reflection entails can be seen in many Surrealist works.

Salvador Dalí, Cygnes reflétant des éléphants, 1937. Oil on canvas. 51 x 77 cm. Esther Grether Family Collection. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Jane Graverol, "L’école de la vanité", 1967


Jane Graverol,

Angels, phoenixes, and other winged creatures appeared very early on in Jane Graverol’s paintings but became regular elements in the 1960s when the artist began experimenting with collage. Taking the ambiguity of mythology to an extreme, the sphinx of L’École de la vanité (The School of Vanity, 1967) translates a monstruous femininity that is conscious of its own sensuality. Although her innards are a tangle of tubes and machinery, her face is as delicate and alluring as the flower she holds between her paws. From this metamorphosis into a hybrid creature springs the image of a female figure capable of forging her own destiny by transforming the parts of her body into weapons for social emancipation.

Jane Graverol, L’école de la vanité, 1967. Oil and collage on cardboard, 62 x 98 cm. Collection Boschmans. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Leonora Carrington, "Cœur d’Amour Épris", 1960


Leonora Carrington,

The author and painter Leonora Carrington’s passion for fantasy literature began in childhood and would stay with her for the rest of her life. Cœur d’Amour Épris (Love-Smitten Heart) takes its title from a tale of chivalry written by René the Duke of Anjou in the 15th century. This scene of a romantic encounter – or confrontation – which is imbued with an almost sacred dimension, is filled with references to alchemy (the green and its transitional quality) and astrology (the reddish orange associated with Mars and hence Aries, the artist’s sign). The painting’s format and its narrative character recall Italian predelle, the lowest part of an altarpiece, which Carrington discovered as a teenager during a stay in Florence.

Leonora Carrington, Coeur d’Amour Épris, 1960. Oil on canvas, 27 × 93 cm. Catherine Petitgas collection © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Maya Deren, "The Witch’s cradle", 1943


Shot in Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery in New York, this unfinished film follows the actor Pajorita Matta as she wanders from one ritual to the next in sequences that show no narrative thread running through them. She appears in certain shots sporting on her forehead a pentagram around which the words ‘the end is the beginning is’ are written in a circle so as to form an endless phrase. This occult star-shaped symbol suggests a circular conception of time, without beginning or end, like the very film we are watching. The camera shifts quickly from a close-up of the actor’s nose and lips to a man played by Marcel Duchamp, whose fingers are entangled in string, then onto a beating heart that makes viewers aware of their own inner rhythm.

Maya Deren, The Witch’s Cradle, 1943. 16 mm film transferred to HD digital, black and white, sound, 12 min. 30 s. Courtesy of the Estate of Maya Deren and the New American Cinema Group / Film-Makers’ Cooperative.


Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, "Die Dreidimensionale Beförderung auuer Mondbewohner", 1954


Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern,

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern was interned a number of times in remand homes and mental hospitals starting in his adolescence because of his violent behaviour. These experiences left him with a hatred of authority. Following the war, he settled in Berlin, declaring himself an astrologer and magnetiser to earn a living. When a theft led him back to prison, doctors diagnosed him with dementia praecox. He then took up painting and drawing. His fantastic characters, colourful cartoonish figures often arranged in acrobatic positions, represent a personal mythology infused with a sexualised content. The feeling of sadistic subversion that his work gives off appealed to the Surrealists, who invited him to take part in the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1959.

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, Die dreidimensionale Beförderung auuer Mondbewohner, 1954. Coloured pencil on paper, 51 x 73 cm. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Victor Brauner, "Ville médiumnique", 1930


 Victor Brauner,

The relationship Victor Brauner had with the cosmos harks back to a prophetic experience that was lived as a guiding principle in his life and work. In 1938 a strange accident set him apart and was exemplary of the ties that bound Surrealism to spiritism. He lost his left eye following a brawl. Before this uncommon event, he had in fact painted a number of pictures – seemingly a premonition – around the theme of a torn-out eye. Divination and prophecy proved central to his creative process and he frequently made the symbolic and formal vocabulary of ancient civilisations a part of his art. Here the buildings of the sleepy city have been transformed into totems.

Victor Brauner, Ville mediumnique, 1930. Oil on canvas, 72,7 x 91 cm. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Etienne Métropole. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Max Ernst, "Moonmad", 1944


This sculpture alludes to the particular powers of the moon. Ernst took the cosmic route to reach the unconscious. In the summer of 1944, he rented a house on Long Island, near New York City, with Dorothea Tanning and the art dealer and collector Julien Levy. It was there that he created the plaster model of Moonmad. Later Levy would recall how he helped to set up the piece in a field so that Ernst could contemplate it in the light of the full moon. A large bronze model is found in the garden of Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning’s house in Seillans, France, where the couple lived from 1964 to 1976.

Max Ernst, Moonmad, 1944. Bronze, 92,6 x 32,1 x 29,8 cm. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Max Ernst, "Epiphanie (Dream Landscape)", 1940


Max Ernst,

Taking for his starting point the chance-based motif of Rorschach ink blots, which were created by pressing a flat smooth surface like glass against diluted oil paint, Max Ernst found in the transfer (decal) technique a new freedom of inventiveness. In this landscape conjuring up a mystical forest dominated by a bright glowing moon and green sky that lends it an air of unreality, nature seems to be animated, energised. Seemingly having sprung up from coagulated vegetal forms using the transfer process, mysterious creatures with a mythological look and a watchful eye appear to come awake to share their secrets with a wanderer who is awaiting a revelation. This dark picture is one of the last Ernst painted in Europe before fleeing to America in 1941.

Max Ernst, Epiphanie (Dream Landscape), 1940. Oil on canvas, 54 x 64 cm. Esther Grether Family Collection. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Kurt Seligmann, "The Cabalist / The Golem", 1942


Kurt Seligmann,

Kurt Seligmann is known for his illustrations of medieval troubadours engaged in fantastic macabre rituals that were inspired by the carnival of his native city of Basel. His work in engraving shows the formation of a symbolic vocabulary that is stamped by a certain anachronism. This does not negate a more political reading, however. This print represents a strange metamorphic figure that is made up of flayed and bandaged anatomical parts, a distant echo of a golem, a being that haunts Jewish mysticism. Seligmann’s image was first published in View, an American cultural magazine that spread Surrealism in the United States. The reproduction accompanied an article describing the ‘madness’ of British stoicism in the face of German air raids.

Kurt Seligmann, The Cabalist / The Golem, 1942. Etching on wove paper. Umbria Italia, 29,4 x 21,1 cm. MAH Musée d’art et d’histoire, Ville de Genève, Achat, 1980. © Orange County Citizens Foundation / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Kurt Seligmann, "The Superfluous Hand", 1938


Kurt Seligmann,

The Swiss-born painter Kurt Seligmann began taking part in Surrealist meetings in 1934 in Paris. He was interested in the occult and ethnography, notably the totems of the Tsimshians, an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This painting is the result of multiple influences. By making the mutant creature at the centre of the pictorial space a true Surrealist animal, he hoped to free up its totemic substance. The motif of the four-fingered claw runs throughout Les Chants de Maldoror (1869), a prose poem in the conte cruel (cruel tale) genre by Isidore Ducasse that features a malefic nihilistic character. Seligmann’s title here is a direct reference to the film Nosferatu (1922) by the German Expressionist filmmaker F.W. Murnau, who enjoyed a cult status amongst the Surrealists.

Kurt Seligmann, The Superfluous Hand, 1938. Oil on plywood, 85,5 x 125 cm. Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau / Depositum der Gottfried Keller-Stiftung, Bundesamt für Kultur, Bern. © Orange County Citizens Foundation / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


André Breton, "Thème astrologique de Benjamin Péret", 1926-1930


André Breton,

The inclination to explore all forms of intuitive knowledge naturally led the Surrealists to take an interest in astrology. This subject proved to be an unorthodox way to approach the world’s mysteries. In the years following his Lettre aux voyantes (1925), André Breton did the horoscopes of many members of the group, including the poet Benjamin Péret, but also those of the movement’s titulary figures like Rimbaud or Lautréamont. Producing these birth charts (document describing all the possible astrological influences on a subject) and working out horoscopes by hand require a certain technical competence, which demonstrates the seriousness with which Breton approached the study of astrology.

André Breton, Thème astrologique de Benjamin Péret, 1926-1930 (?). Black, red and green ink, graphite on fine paper, 22,4 x 27,9 cm. Ville de Nantes – Bibliothèque municipale. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Revue VVV


André Breton tried to bring together the Surrealist community in exile in New York around a new review. The title, VVV, is a reference to the words ‘Victory’, ‘View’, and ‘Veil’, and based on this passage, ‘Victory over the forces of regression, View around us, View inside us… the myth in process of formation beneath the Veil of happenings.’ The spread of Surrealist ideas through the review’s four issues had a significant impact on the young generation of American artists, notably Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.

VVV. Poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociology, psychology
Number 1, June 1942
Number 1, June 1942
Number 2-3, March 1943
Number 4, February 1944
Offset, paperback volume, heavy paper cover
MAH Musée d’art et d’histoire, City of Geneva, Purchase, n.d.


Alberto Giacometti, "Projet pour la Chase Manhattan Plaza: Homme qui marche, Femme debout, Tête sur socle", 1959


A travelling companion of Surrealism in the early 1930s, Alberto Giacometti quickly broke away to go in a different direction, towards a figurative art influenced by nascent existentialism. With On ne joue plus (No More Games, 1931/32), he is already anticipating the endgame. Looking like a game board with a number of half-spherical hollows, the sculpture resembles a field littered with tombs.

In 1958 he was asked to create a monument for the plaza of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Approaching the public space as if it were a playing field, Giacometti chose to rework on a large scale the three motifs that had been haunting his art since 1948, i.e., a standing female figure, a large man walking, and a monumental head set directly on the ground, but the monument remained as mere figurines and was never completed.

Alberto Giacometti, Project for the Chase Manhattan Plaza: Walking Man, Standing Woman, Head on Pedestal, 1959. Bronze, 7.1 × 1.8 × 8.5 cm, 10.5 × 4 × 2.5 cm, 6 × 1.3 × 1 cm, ed. 6/6. Loan Private collection, Switzerland. © Succession Alberto Giacometti / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich

Man Ray, Giacometti. On ne joue plus, 1933. Photographic enlargement. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Sonja Sekula, "Silence", 1951


Sonja Sekula,

A major figure of the New York scene and a friend of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Sonja Sekula was part of the legendary 1951 9th Street Show that launched Abstract Expressionism. Serving as a link between Surrealist tropes and Geometrical Abstraction, on the one hand, and the gestural markings of Action Painting, on the other, this picture is a reminder of a key transitional moment in American Modernism. In 1955 Sekula was forced to return to Switzerland to treat her schizophrenia. Her exile put an end to her brilliant career while her contribution to the history of Abstraction was largely forgotten until the recent reconsideration of her work. Despite treatment, she took her life at the age of forty-five.

Sonja Sekula, Silence, 1951. Oil on canvas, 147 x 101 cm. © Kunsthaus Zürich, gift of the artist’s mother, 1966


Unica Zürn, "Untitled", 1955


Unica Zürn began her association with the Surrealist movement in the 1950s when she met Hans Bellmer. She stood out especially for her talents in drawing. The use of ink spawned a phantasmagorical bestiary that displays meticulous draughtsmanship. In a tangle of fluid lines, she lays bare her fantasies and morbid fears. Literature was also a way for her to express her mental suffering. In L’Homme-Jasmin (The Jasmin Man, 1971), she explores the torments of schizophrenia with the cold concision of a clinical intelligence and the truth of an unaltered voice.

Unica Zürn, Untitled, 1955. Coloured pencil and ink on drawing paper, 45 x 62 cm. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne


Marcel Duchamp, "Rotorelief", 1965


Very early on in his career, Marcel Duchamp was inspired by the depiction of movement. He had already used optical discs in Anémic cinéma (1925), the experimental film he jointly created – under the name of his fictional double Rrose Sélavy, ‘expert in precision optics’ – with Man Ray and Marc Allégret. In 1935 he came up with Rotoreliefs, a set of six cardboard discs that were printed on both sides. The drawings on them were titled Corolles (Corollas), Lanterne chinoise (Chinese Lantern), and Escargot (Snail). They were ‘like a visual entertainment’. Meant to be used on a record player, these colourful discs created hypnotising effects of depth or relief when spinning on the turntable.

Marcel Duchamp, Rotorelief, 1965. Set of 12 images, offset lithograph on 6 cardboard discs recto and verso; each disc printed with its title; with wall-mounted turntable unit designed by Duchamp,⌀ 20 cm (each disc), 37.5 × 37.5 × 12 cm (motorised box), ed. 88/150. Courtesy Collection Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris – Salzburg © Association Marcel Duchamp / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Marcel Duchamp, "Obligation de Monte Carlo", 1924 / 1938


Marcel Duchamp,

In 1924 Marcel Duchamp became interested in how gaming worked in the casinos of Monaco. After a period of careful study, he announced he had perfected a betting strategy for roulette that would allow him to defy the odds. Duchamp created and sold bonds (the obligations of the title), like the one displayed here, so that others could ‘invest’ in his gambling strategy and eventually reap its rewards, too. As is often the case with this artist, the line between sincerity and jest is hard to draw. The roulette wheel features a photograph of Duchamp himself, his head covered with soap bubbles. In the background of the bond, he has printed a text that would make forgery more difficult – although the words are a lilting bit of absurdity in French, ‘moustiques domestiques demistock’ (literally ‘half-stock domestic mosquitos’).

Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Obligation de Monte Carlo, 1924/1938. Colour lithograph after an original photograph of Marcel Duchamp by Man Ray, included in XX e siècle Paris N 4, winter 1938, 33 x 24 cm. Coll. R. Patt. © Association Marcel Duchamp / 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Marcel Mariën, "Muette et aveugle me voici habillée des pensées que tu me prêtes", c. 1940-1945


The practice of combining words and the female body runs throughout the photography of Marcel Mariën, a central player in Belgian Surrealism. The view from behind the subject is a nod to Man Ray’s famous photograph Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), even though the intimacy of the interior and the performative nature of the composed image contrast with the polished results of the photography studio. Use of women’s bodies as a tool in art is a constant amongst male Surrealist artists. Silent in Man Ray’s photograph, here the female subject is the female subject is given a voice. The writing on her back addresses viewers directly, questions their position of authority, and underscores the subjective nature of perception.

Marcel Mariën, Muette et aveugle me voici habillée des pensées que tu me prêtes, circa 1940-1945. Silver print, 9 x 6 cm. Collection of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, on deposit at the Musée de la Photographie de Charleroi.


Denise Bellon, "Mannequins surréalistes de l’Exposition internationale du surréalisme de 1938


In 1938 the Surrealist group mounted its ambitious ‘International Surrealist Exhibition’ at the Beaux-Arts Gallery in Paris. A passageway dubbed ‘the most beautiful streets of Paris’ featured sixteen dressmaker’s dummies sporting the names of Parisian streets, some of them made up. The photographer Denise Bellon documented the process of setting up the show. Her portraits of the artists with their mannequins demonstrate the playful, improvised character of these Surrealist assemblages.


Man Ray, "Barbette", 1926 (1988)


Man Ray created for Jean Cocteau about a dozen photographs of the trapeze artist Barbette (Vander Clyde, 1898-1973). An androgynous artist, Barbette was quite famous in the 1920s and ‘30s, performing at the Cirque Medrano, the Opéra Music-Hall, Olympia, and Moulin Rouge. He would do his act dressed as a woman until the finale, when he would reveal his disguise. Barbette’s heavily made-up face, wig and muscular torso suggested a provocative mix of sexual attributes. Fascinated by this character, Cocteau wrote about him in ‘Le numéro Barbette’ (Barbette’s Act), which was published in La Nouvelle revue française in 1926 and illustrated with photographs by Man Ray. He also included him in his film Le Sang d’un Poète (1930).


Pierre Molinier, "Le Chaman, Variante", c. 1965


Pierre Molinier,

A master of autoeroticism, Pierre Molinier was the creator of a scandalous body of work that went so far it managed to shock André Breton. Starting in the 1950s, he produced half-abstract half-figurative paintings that suggest contorted bodies and entwined limbs. But it was especially with his staged photographs that he made an impression. His process involved shooting photographs of himself ‘done up’ – shaved and tweezered, made up, often sporting a black domino mask, and dressed in a few accessories such as basque, corset, gloves, stockings, and stiletto heels, occasionally a mesh veil – and then cutting out his body or parts of it and rearranging them in the final photograph of the ensuing collage, an ideal image of himself.

Pierre Molinier, Le Chaman, Variante, circa 1965. Vintage silver print, 17 x 6 cm. Courtesy Galerie Christophe Gaillard. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Hans Bellmer et Paul Eluard, "Les Jeux de la Poupée", 1949


Hans Bellmer et Paul Eluard,

Hans Bellmer’s famous doll, a fetishistic object at the heart of his eminently transgressive work, cleared the way for a reflection on the integrity of the body and sexual identity. At the time, it had the effect of a bomb, pulverising accepted categories. Neither an object nor a piece of sculpture, the doll turned into a polymorphous organ and an instrument that could be infinitely worked and transformed. Beyond being part and parcel of Surrealism (Paul Eluard devoted fourteen poems to it in 1938, which were published with hand-coloured photographs in Les Jeux de la Poupée in 1949), the strange object combines both nostalgia for childhood and an erotic imagination influenced by the writings of de Sade.

Hans Bellmer and Paul Éluard, Les jeux de la poupée, 1949. Printed book with 15 silver prints, 25 x 19,5 cm, éd. 115/136. Collection David et Marcel Fleiss; Galerie 1900-2000, Paris. © 2024, ProLitteris, Zurich


Irène Zurkinden, "N'allez pas trop vite!", 1935


Irène Zurkinden,

Living and working in Paris since the early 1930s, Irène Zurkinden had ties with the Surrealists through her childhood friend Meret Oppenheim. Nevertheless, she was to remain on the fringes of the movement, preferring to depict her own private world through portraits and genre scenes. While her drawings with their jagged line explore an erotic unconscious, she also painted enigmatic pictures that she composed like visual puzzles, leaving a large part of the canvas blank.

Irène Zurkinden, Don’t go too fast!, 1935. Collage on canvas, 37,5 x 55 cm. Estate Irène Zurkinden, courtesy Galerie Knoell, Bâle


Marion Adnams

1898 – 1995 Derby (GB)

Originally trained as a teacher of modern languages, Marion Adnams produced a series of woodcuts when travelling in Europe during the 1920s, which received considerable praise. She went on to study art in her home city, graduating as an art teacher in 1938 before becoming head of art at Derby Training College in 1946. From 1930 onwards, she developed a style of painting with strong dreamlike and Surrealist overtones, and exhibited in local art galleries as well as prestigious institutions such as the British Art Centre alongside Eileen Agar and the Modern Art Gallery alongside Max Ernst. A Surrealist based in Derby, her paintings are home to stones, butterflies, shells and other biomorphic objects found in the English countryside, and often convey existential preoccupations

Rachel Baes

Ixelles (BE)–1983, Bruges (BE)

Rachel Baes was born into a family of artists and encouraged to pursue an artistic career at an early age. Self-taught, she initially concentrated on floral compositions, portraits and interiors in an expressionist vein that she later dubbed her “cauliflower period”. In the 1930s, she entered into a passionate relationship with the Flemish nationalist Joris van Severen. His sudden death in 1940 triggered a radical change in her painting. From then on, most of her paintings featured strange-looking young girls immersed in a mysterious world. This new kind of painting brought her closer to the Belgian and French Surrealists. In Paris, she became friends with Paul Eluard, who exhibited her work in 1946, while René Magritte painted her portrait in “Scheherazade”. However, Baes preferred the solitude of phantasmagorical world to clear affiliation with the Surrealist group.

Hans Bellmer

Kattowitz (DE)–1975, Paris (FR)

A painter, engraver, draughtsman, photographer and sculptor, Hans Bellmer took a course in technical drawing at Berlin’s Technische Hochschule in 1923. He befriended Georg Grosz and frequented the Berlin Dadaists. In 1933, he started working on his first “Doll”, which he then photographed in provocative, erotic poses for a book published the following year, Die Puppe (The Doll). That same year, eighteen of these photographs were republished in issue 6 of the journal Minotaure, marking his entry into the Surrealist group. This was followed by his second doll, whose sexual, erotic nature was highlighted by the use of ball joints and graphic postures arranged for the camera. In 1938, he left Germany for Paris, where he took part in international Surrealist exhibitions. He was interned in France in 1939 as a German national. In 1957, he met the artist Unica Zürn, who became his partner.

Denise Bellon

1902–1999 Paris (FR)

After briefly studying psychology, Denise Bellon discovered photography through Jean Boucher, a teacher at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. She later entered the studio of René Zuber. They joined the Alliance Photo agency, founded by Maria Eisner in 1934. Fascinated by the Surrealist movement, she documented several its exhibitions in 1938, 1947, 1949 and 1965. Her colossal body of work is a mixture of portraits and documentary reports that always put human beings centre-stage, as shown by her photographs of Surrealist artists alongside their Mannequins. In 2001, director Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon, Denise’s daughter, made Le souvenir d’un avenir, a documentary-tribute to the photographer in the form of a photo-novel in which her images follow and are superimposed over one another.

Victor Brauner

1903 Piatra Neamț (RO)–1966, Paris (FR)

Born in Romania, Victor Brauner became involved in the Surrealist movement in his homeland, which was particularly vibrant at the time. On his frequent trips to Paris he met Yves Tanguy, who introduced him to André Breton and the Surrealist circle in 1933. In 1934, Breton organised his first Paris exhibition, and four years later he made France his home. That same year, he lost his eye when intervening in a brawl, an event that, strangely enough, he had anticipated in earlier portraits. This act of divination paved the way for a more bizarre and visionary style of Surrealism. His discovery of writings on the treatment of schizophrenia had a decisive impact on his work, as he began to use forms from tribal arts in metamorphoses tinged with an alchemical quality. He was expelled from the Surrealist movement in 1948. In 1966 Brauner was informed that he had been chosen to represent France at the Venice Biennale.

André Breton

1896 Tinchebray (FR)–1966, Paris (FR)

The young André Breton knew the symbolists Paul Valéry, Guillaume Apollinaire and Pierre Reverdy and was inspired by anarchism and socialism. During the war he served as a medical intern and was deeply affected by his discovery of Freudian psychoanalysis. In 1919 he published his first Mallarmé-influenced collection of poems and wrote Les Champs magnétiques alongside Philippe Soupault. Published in 1920, this volume marked the advent of Surrealism, the principles of which he formulated in his first Manifesto of Surrealism, published in 1924, followed five years later by the Second Manifesto of Surrealism and by the Prolegomena to a Third Manifesto of Surrealism in 1943. It was in journals that Breton’s vision of Surrealism was most strongly articulated, notably La Révolution surréaliste, Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution and VVV, which he co-founded while in exile in New York.

Claude Cahun

1894 Nantes (FR)–1954, Saint-Hélier (FR)

In 1909 Claude Cahun, born Lucy Schwob, met Suzanne Malherbe, known as Marcel Moore, who became her alter ego. Cahun published her first works under her assumed name in 1914, in the journal Mercure de France. Moving to Paris in the early 1920s, she met André Breton, who opened the doors to an artistic and literary adventure coupled with political activism. The androgynous nature of her given name is a sign of the indeterminacy of her identity: “Fix nothing and declare permanent carnival.” This playful approach is evident in the artist’s photographic tableaux, which are veritable collaborations between Cahun and Moore. Here the deceptive nature of subjectivity and the doubling of genders and roles coincide in complex portraits. This redoubling later resonated with the artists’ own lives and their activities in the Resistance during the Second World War.

Nicolas Calas

Lausanne (CH)–1988, New York (US)

Born Nicolas Kalamaris, Nicolas Calas came from a wealthy Greek merchant family and received a Francophile education during his childhood in Athens. He studied law there before publishing his first texts of artistic and political criticism under the name of M. Spieros. His first poems were published in 1930 under the name Nikitas Randos. From 1933 onwards, he made numerous trips to Paris, where he moved in artistic circles. He made the city his permanent home in 1937, under his new name. His interest in the communist cause was echoed in the revolutionary aspirations of the Surrealist group, of which he became an active member. His collection of essays Foyers d’incendie, published in 1938, outlined his conception of art as a revolutionary process. He left Paris at the beginning of the Second World War to settle in New York, where he continued his critical and literary activities.

Leonora Carrington

1917 Clayton Green (UK)–2011, Mexico City (MX)

Born in England at the end of its “occult renaissance”, Leonora Carrington studied drawing and painting in London and Florence, where she discovered the fantastic medieval paintings and monsters of Jérôme Bosch. She met Max Ernst in 1937 and followed him to Paris, where she became acquainted with the Surrealist circle. The following year, she took part in the Surrealist exhibition and published her first story, House of Fear. In 1940 she fled occupied France for Spain, where she suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined to a sanatorium in Santander. This traumatic event was the basis of her story Down Below, published in 1945. In 1941 she made it to New York, where she met other exiled Surrealists. In 1943 she moved to Mexico City, where she met Remedios Varo. Her exposure to pre-Columbian cultures significantly shaped the development of her art.

René Clair

1898 Paris (FR)–1981, Neuilly-sur-Seine (FR)

After the First World War, when he served as an ambulance driver, René Clair began a career as a journalist with L’Intransigeant, under the pseudonym René Desprès, before turning to the cinema, where he started out as an actor before becoming an assistant to Jacques de Baroncelli and then Henri Diamant-Berger. His first film, Paris Asleep (on which he starts working in 1923), was followed by many other landmarks of 1930s cinema, such as Under the Roofs of Paris (1930) and The Ghost Goes West (1935). In 1946, Silence is Golden marked his return to French cinema after the Occupation, during which he preferred to work in Hollywood rather than under the control of the occupying forces. In parallel to his film work he also wrote, publishing novels and short stories such as his 1976 collection Jeux de hasard, as well as several essays.

Ithell Colquhoun

1906 Shillong (IN)–1988, Lamorna (UK)

Ithell Colquhoun was the daughter of an English civil servant working in colonial India. The family returned to England shortly after he birth. Later, at the Slade School of Art, she began to develop an interest in esoteric literature and occult sects. In 1931 she discovered Surrealism in Paris, where she had a studio next door to that of Paule Vézalay. In 1936, she took part in the London International Exhibition of Surrealism. She joined the Surrealist movement in 1939 but left a year later, refusing to renounce her occultist interests, although her paintings, which attempt to capture a mental space on canvas, used Surrealist techniques such as automatism. Colquhoun moved to Cornwall in the late 1940s, a fertile ground for the occultist and metaphysical interests she explored in her writings.

Salvador Dalí

1904–1989 Figueras (ES)

A leading figure in Surrealism, Salvador Dalí’s formative period was marked by two major events: his discovery of the writings of Sigmund Freud and his affiliation with the Surrealists in Paris. His paintings are particularly notably for their irrational deformations and metamorphoses rendered with meticulous realism, as well as their sun-drenched landscapes, reminiscent of his native Catalonia. At the end of the 1930s, he turned to a more academic style of painting and was expelled from the Surrealist group because of his ambiguous position on the rise of fascism. He lived in the United States from 1940 to 1955. Religious themes figured prominently in his work between the 1950s and 1970s, blending with the artist’s favourite subjects: eroticism, childhood memories and themes centred around his wife and muse, Gala.

René Daumal

1908 Boulzicourt (FR)–1944, Paris (FR)

The son of a junior schoolteacher René Daumal seems to have developed the interest in hermeticism that was a constant in his life at an early age. The essential was always elsewhere, hidden in the darkness – this was a conviction he shared with fellow students at his lycée: Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Meyrat and Roger Vailland. Together they formed the “Phères Simplistes”, and later the Grand Jeu group. In these early years their metaphysical quest was to rediscover the intuitive knowledge of childhood and search for another state of consciousness and perception, altered by artificial means such as drugs. Daumal moved to Paris in 1925, where he developed his knowledge of mystical, theosophical and occult literature. From 1927 onwards, Daumal, Gilbert-Lecomte and Vailland explored their simpliste theories in the magazine Le Grand Jeu, three issues of which appeared between 1928 and 1930.

Lise Deharme

1898 Paris (FR)–1980, Neuilly-sur-Seine (FR)

Lise Deharme became acquainted with the Surrealist group in Paris in the 1920s and soon became one of its muses. A poet, novelist, socialite and editor of the magazine Le Phare de Neuilly from 1933, in 1936 she collaborated with Claude Cahun on the publication of Le Cœur de Pic, in which her poems are illustrated by Cahun’s photographic settings. In his preface to this collaborative work Paul Eluard described it as a “picture book, [which] is as old as you want to be”. Placing photographic images at the centre of the story, Le Coeur de Pic comes across as a true “Surrealist book”, similar to André Breton’s Nadja and L’Amour fou.

Maya Deren

1917 Kyiv (UKR)–1961, New York (US)

The daughter of a Russian psychoanalyst of Jewish origin, Maya Deren’s family left the USSR for New York shortly after her birth. She completed her schooling in Switzerland and then rejoined her family in New York, where she studied journalism and literature. In 1942 she married the avant-garde film-maker Alexander Hammid (Alexander Hackenschmied), who introduced her to the experimental works of the 1920s. In 1943, the couple co-produced the short Meshes of the Afternoon, which is considered the first modern American experimental film, foreshadowing the future underground movement. The film extended the formal researches of the Surrealist group, while exploring female fantasies and sexual identity in a way its members had not done. Throughout her life, in her films and writings, she strove to differentiate cinema from associated artistic movements and to establish a distinct identity for experimental cinema.

Marcel Duchamp

1887 Blainville-Crevon (FR)–1968, Neuilly-sur-Seine (FR)

A precursor of conceptual art and inventor of the ready-made, the first Surrealist object, throughout his life Marcel Duchamp cultivated a detachment that prevented any affiliation to a specific artistic movement. His elusive personality fascinated André Breton, as can be seen in “Le phare de la mariée”, the study of his Large Glass published in issue 6 of Le Minotaure in 1935. He quickly became the Surrealist group’s resident “scenographer”, notably for the memorable 1938 exhibition in which he hung sacks of coal from the ceiling, creating a more intense, cramped space. His repeated games with abstraction and eroticism are symptomatic of a shift from retinal art to a more mental conception. Abstract representations and sensuality went hand in hand, the senses and the mind coming together, as in his 1947 work Prière de toucher, the catalogue cover for the Surrealist exhibition at Galerie Maeght, at which Duchamp designed the central room.


Suzanne Duchamp

1889 Blainville-Crevon (FR)–1963, Neuilly-sur-Seine (FR)

The fourth child in a family of six, four of whom became artists, Suzanne Duchamp, Marcel’s younger sister, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Rouen and exhibited her work for the first time in 1912. She met the painter Jean Crotti in 1916, and married him three years later, on which occasion her brother sent her instructions for a “ready-made gift”: he asked her to attach a geometry book to the balcony of his flat. The wind itself chose the problems by leafing through the pages. She turned it into a painting, Marcel Duchamp’s Unfortunate Ready-made. At the entrance to the Salon d’Automne in 1921, the couple handed out a leaflet announcing the creation of their Dada movement called “TABU”. From 1927 onwards, her artistic output consisted of landscape paintings and floral works on paper, and she took part in exhibitions in France and the United States.

Marcel Duhamel

1900 Paris (FR)–1977, Saint-Laurent-du-Var (FR)

Marcel Duhamel grew up in Picardy. It was a lonely childhood. At the age of fifteen he travelled as a stowaway to England, where he became a bellboy. After military service, he travelled to Istanbul where he met Jacques Prévert and Yves Tanguy – the beginning of a friendship and of his own Surrealist affiliation. Returning to France, he worked as a hotel manager and ran what became a Surrealist meeting place frequented by the likes of Prévert, Louis Aragon, Tanguy, Benjamin Péret and Robert Desnos. The group formed the theatre company Octobre and toured Moscow, Italy and North Africa. He met the British writer Peter Cheney, with whom he signed a contract in 1945 that launched the Série noire collection of crime fiction: over the next thirty-two years, more than one thousand five hundred novels were published, by some of the world’s leading crime writers. At the same time, he continued his theatrical activities, adapting numerous plays.

Germaine Dulac

1882, Amiens (FR)–1942, Paris (FR)

Pioneering filmmaker Germaine Dulac was also a major feminist figure of the early 20th century. From an early age, she was passionate about journalism, writing theatre reviews, interviewing famous women and championing women’s right to vote. She married the novelist Albert Dulac in 1904. Her growing interest in cinema led her to set up her own production company in 1915; then came her first film, Les Sœurs ennemies. Convinced of the social significance of cinema, she co-founded the Club Français du Cinéma in 1922, followed by the Fédération Française des Ciné-clubs in 1929. Her “integral cinema”, using blurring and superimpositions and other expressive devices, made her a leading proponent of avant-garde cinema. In 1927, La Coquille et le Clergyman [The Shell and the Clergyman] caused a furore because of its sexual and erotic connotations. This experimental film is considered to be the first Surrealist film.

Nusch Éluard

1906, Mulhouse (FR)–1946, Paris (FR)

An enigmatic muse who inspired numerous works of art in the 1930s and 1940s, Nusch Éluard’s discretion means that she is often overlooked. She left her native region for Paris in 1928, working as a hypnotist to earn a living. In 1930, René Char and Paul Éluard spotted her in the streets of Paris and introduced her to the Surrealists. She married Éluard four years later. An adulated member of the group, she was soon the muse of Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, René Magritte and Joan Miró. Her own artistic work was characterised by collages and her participation in collective Surrealist works such as cadavres exquis. Her death at the age of forty from a stroke was a real blow to the Surrealist group.

Paul Éluard

1895, Saint-Denis (FR)–1952, Charenton-le-Pont (FR)

At the age of 17, Eugène Paul Grindel met a young Russian girl whom he nicknamed Gala. He chose the pseudonym Paul Éluard and married her in 1916. After the war, he joined the Dada movement, then took part in the creation of Surrealism alongside his friends André Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. After several years of separation from Gala, he married Maria Benz, nicknamed Nusch, in 1934. Politically active, he joined the Communist Party in 1927 and entered the Resistance. His poem “Liberté” was dropped by British planes over occupied France and brought him worldwide fame, making Éluard the archetype of the poet of freedom. He published over a hundred collections of poetry, often consisting of short verses written in familiar words that combined love with political, humanist and revolutionary engagement.

Max Ernst

1891, Brühl (DE)–1976, Paris (FR)

Born in Brühl in 1891, Max Ernst studied philosophy before he took up painting. With Theodor Baargeld and Hans Arp he founded the Dada group in Cologne in 1918 (to 1920) and developed new creative techniques such as rubbing (frottage) and decalcomania, in which the medium reveals. underlying textures. In 1921, he met André Breton and Paul Éluard in Paris and joined the Surrealist circle. He began making collage-reliefs in 1919, while his first sculptures – plaster chess pieces – were created in 1929. Arrested and interned in 1939, he was released before taking refuge in the United States in 1941, where he developed his sculptural practice in a more refined manner and in more monumental proportions. His sculptures often represent totemic figures or figures from chess games, as is the case with Moonmad(1944).

Leonor Fini

1907, Buenos Aires (AR)–1996, Paris (FR)

Although she mixed with the Surrealist group in Paris and New York, where she had her first solo exhibition in 1937 at the Julian Levy Gallery, Leonor Fini, who was born in Argentina but steeped in the Italian culture of Trieste and Milan where she grew up and studied, always refused to join the group. She met them in Paris in the early 1930s, through Max Ernst, and discovered a shared inclination for metamorphoses, psychoanalysis and the exploration of the mental world. But she emancipated herself from the dogmas laid down by André Breton. Until her death, she lived and worked in Paris, where she was close to many Surrealists such as Leonora Carrington, Victor Brauner and Max Ernst, but also and above all to theatre and fashion figures such as Elsa Schiaparelli. She designed numerous sets for plays such as Julien Gracq’s Le Roi Pêcheur in 1945 and Jean Genêt’s Les Bonnes in 1961.

Esteban Frances

1913, Portbou (ES) –1976, Deià (ES)

In 1925, Esteban Frances left to study art in Barcelona, where he met Remedios Varo and became acquainted with Paul Éluard and Oscar Dominguez. The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) forced him to flee to Paris, where he joined the Surrealist group and developed his sidereal landscapes and biomorphic forms. In 1940, the Second World War saw him escape Europe for Mexico. The volcanic eruption he witnessed there, with the burning red lava that deformed and recomposed itself as it flowed, made a deep impression. Finally, he settled in New York, where he worked as a theatre set and costume designer, collaborating regularly with the choreographer George Balanchine, a leading figure in contemporary dance. He continued to paint, gradually incorporating more geometric elements.

Wilhelm Freddie

1909–1995 Copenhagen (DK)

A major figure in the Danish avant-garde, Wilhelm Freddie helped introduce Surrealism to Scandinavia with his painting Liberté, égalité, fraternité, which was exhibited in 1930. Five years later, the movement made a forceful incursion with the Cubism–Surrealism exhibition in Copenhagen, curated by André Breton. That same year, Freddie began producing his first objects. His provocative works were repeatedly censored and seized by European customs, and his 1937 Sex-Surreal exhibition was censored for offending public morals, earning the artist a ten-day stay in prison.

Alberto Giacometti

Stampa (CH)–1966 Chur (CH)

Alberto Giacometti took painting lessons in his father’s studio. In 1922 he arrived in Paris to study sculpture. His early works reveal an interest in the African statuary he discovered in the French capital. At the end of the 1920s, his work came closer to Surrealist concerns, notably as regards Freudian psychoanalysis. He took an active part in meetings of the Surrealist group between 1931 and 1935, during which period he had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Pierre Colle in 1932. Two years later, his show at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York won him international recognition, which was confirmed in 1936 by his inclusion in the major exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at MoMA, which acquired some of his works. He was excluded from the movement in 1935, when his practice took a more figurative turn.

Jane Graverol

1905, Ixelles (BE)–1984, Fontainebleau (FR)

Jane Graverol took an active part in the activities of the Brussels Surrealist circle from the late 1940s, and stands apart as one of the few women to join the movement in the post-war generation. She founded Temps mêlés, an important journal of Belgian Surrealism with a revolutionary thrust, which continued to be published in its original form until 1977, and organised exhibitions and debates in Verviers in order to contribute to the Surrealist revolution (René Magritte exhibited there in 1953). With Marcel Mariën and Paul Nougé, she founded another important review, Les Lèvres nues, which was published until 1975. Graverol met André Breton in 1960, in the course of her regular contacts with the Paris art scene. Inspired by mythology and its female figures, Graverol created works such as L’école de la vanité, a phantasmagorical representation typical of this artist.

Henriette Grindat

1923–1986 Lausanne (CH)

Henriette Grindat entered the Lausanne School of Photography in 1944. She trained at the photography school in Vevey, Switzerland, then worked as a freelance photographer from 1949 for a number of magazines and journals. Taken with a Rolleiflex, her structured photographs were published in the Swiss press. Fascinated and influenced by Surrealism, she experimented with different forms, using collage, solarisation and superimposed photograms, transforming nature and landscape into strange creatures. In the 1950s, free association gave way to a more subjective style of reportage. She produced a number of photography books such as Postérité du soleil, prefaced by René Char and with a text by Albert Camus. She collaborated repeatedly with the publishers Claire Fontaine and the Guilde du Livre de Lausanne.

Jacques Hérold

Piatra Neamț (RO)–1987, Paris (FR)

Born Hérold Blumer, he studied at the Bucharest School of Fine Arts from 1927 to 1929. As the close witness of three fatal accidents which left a deep impression, his painting is informed by an awareness of flaying and torn flesh. He came to Surrealism through the Romanian avant-garde magazine Unu, in which he published his first drawings alongside Victor Brauner. In 1929, he travelled to Paris using a forged identity that gave him his new name. Five years later, he joined the Surrealist group and took part in collective cadavre exquis sessions. His art of the écorché took a new turn, foreshadowing the horrors of war. When hostilities broke out, he joined Breton and the Surrealists in Marseille, where they were waiting to escape to the United States, and contributed to the Jeu de Marseille. In the 1950s, he developed a style of painting close to lyrical abstraction.

Artür Harfaux

1906, Cambrai (FR)–1995, Paris (FR)

A photographer and draughtsman, Artür Harfaux met Maurice Henry in Cambrai. Henry introduced him to the Phrères Simplistes René Daumal, Roger Vailland and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte. He played an active part in the adventure of Le Grand Jeu between 1928 and 1930, his photographic experiments featuring in every issue of this short-lived magazine. In Paris, where he moved in 1924, he gradually detached himself from Le Grand Jeu before leaving it for good in 1932 to join the Surrealist group. From 1939 to 1951, Harfaux and Henry teamed up under the name of the “Gagmen Associés” to experiment with film, and took part in around twenty films as gagmen or scriptwriters. In 1992, he contributed to the Joseph Sima exhibition held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Maurice Henry

1907 Cambrai (FR)–1984, Milan (IT)

An active member of Le Grand Jeu, Maurice Henry was known for his championing of Surrealist ideas through the press. As a young man, he read La Révolution surréaliste and tried his hand on his own at automatic writing and drawing. It was Roger Vailland who introduced him to Roger Gilbert-Lecomte and René Daumal, all of whom were fascinated by Surrealism. Together they founded the Grand Jeu group. His text Le Discours du révolté opened the first issue of the eponymous magazine, in which he also published several drawings. In 1933, when the Grand Jeu disbanded, he joined the Surrealist group and took part in its exhibitions. His career as a journalist helped him ensure extensive media coverage of the Surrealist group’s activities. He also worked as a scriptwriter, gagman with Artür Harfaux, a theatre director and set designer, photographer, and film and jazz critic.

Georges Hugnet

1906, Paris (FR)–1974, Saint-Martin-de-Ré (FR)

Although he featured prominently in Man Ray’s famous 1934 composition Surrealist Chessboard, which celebrated the leading figures of the Surrealist movement, Georges Hugnet is no longer recognised as an important figure in the group. As the first historian of the Dada group, his studies appeared in the journals Les Cahiers d’Art and Minotaure. He also made numerous collages, painted and created transfers, but was first and foremost a poet. In 1926, through Max Jacob, he published his first collection, Quarante poésies de Stanislas Boutemer. In 1929, his short film La Perle exemplified a non-narrative form of Surrealism. He joined the group in 1932 but was expelled in 1939. In 1936, his work La Septième face du dé [The Seventh Side of the Dice] demonstrated his poetic and artistic talents in twenty poem/cut-outs that mixed texts and imagery from popular sources with erotic writings and images.

Valentine Hugo

1887, Boulogne-sur-Mer (FR)–1968 Paris (FR)

Valentine Gross entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1907 and first took part in the Salon des Artistes Français in 1909. Her fascination with the world of dance – particularly the Ballets Russes – and fashion led her to make costumes, fancy dress, masks and theatre sets. She married Jean Hugo in 1919. In 1931, she became André Breton’s mistress, and the following year she divorced. Her close association with the Surrealist group is evident in her painting Portrait of the Surrealist Poets (1932–1948). During the 1930s, she created her first Surrealist objects and took part in the 1933 Surrealist Exhibition and, in 1937, in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Her distinctive style is characterised by dreamlike representations that flirt with a naïve aesthetic, and are set against dark backgrounds animated by the play of light.

Gladys Hynes

1888, Indore (IN)–1958, London (UK)

Gladys Hynes was born in India, whence her family later returned to London. In 1911 she went to Newlyn to study painting at a new school that advocated outdoor painting inspired by French naturalism. Hynes drew the elements of her first works from the hilly Cornish landscape and its traditions. During the war, she moved to London to work for the Omega Workshops, set up by the artist and art critic Roger Fry in an effort to revive the values of the pre-industrial world, as popularised by the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century. An activist at heart, she became involved in various causes, notably those of the suffragettes and the Irish Republican movement. Her artistic work, which was closely linked to the key events of the 20th century in Britain, powerfully conveys her deep-seated pacifism.

René Magritte

1898, Lessines (BE)–1967, Brussels (1967)

The incongruous juxtapositions of familiar objects, changes of scale and perspective, trompe lroeil and metaphorical associations imbued with humour and erotic connotations in René Magritte’s works have made him one of the most popular Surrealists. He studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts during the First World War, then worked as a graphic artist in a wallpaper factory. In the early 1920s, he began a fruitful collaboration with the Belgian Surrealists and then with the group in Paris, where he settled between 1927 and 1930. A versatile painter, he revisited Impressionism in the 1940s and embraced a certain kind of kitsch with his Vache period. He had a retrospective at MoMA in New York in 1965. His late success was perpetuated by his influence on the Pop and Conceptual artists who followed him.

Marcel Mariën

1920, Antwerp (BE)–1993, Schaerbeek (BE)

Born into a modest family to a Walloon father and Flemish mother, Marcel Mariën developed an early distaste for conformism. He met René Magritte in Brussels in 1937, as well as Paul Nougé and other Belgian Surrealists, which gave him a chance to exhibit his first object, L’introuvable, at a Surrealist exhibition in London the same year (the title was found by Magritte). Although close to Surrealism, he always cultivated a certain detachment from it. In 1953, he met Jane Graverol. Together with Paul Nougé, they founded the review Lèvres nues the following year. He broke with Magritte in 1954, and presented himself as the founding father of the theory of emmerdement maximal (Murphy’s law). He produced a body of work in minor genres, responding caustically to a Surrealism that was not radical enough for his taste. In 1979 he published the authoritative work on the history of Belgian Surrealism.

Henri Matinie

1881, Corrèze (FR)–1963, Paris (FR)

Henri Martinie’s photographs bear witness to the lively literary scene in Paris between the 1920s and 1940s. His portraits of French and visiting foreign writers include Philippe Soupault, Georges Bernanos, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Francis Fitzgerald and Paul Éluard. His photography studio also had a space reserved for it at the Assemblée Nationale, enabling him to produce a series of portraits featuring a large number of the Republic’s deputies. When he died he left around 15,000 negatives.


1905, Port Said (EGY)–1990 Seine-Port (FR)

Antoine Malliarakis, nicknamed Mayo ever since childhood, was the son of Greek immigrants who found refuge in Egypt. He discovered Cubism through the avant-garde magazines that the Suez Canal Company sent from Paris. He moved to the French capital in 1923 to study and became acquainted with Man Ray, May Ernst and Yves Tanguy. In 1927, he attended his first meeting of the Surrealist group. However, he rejected Breton’s authoritarian way of conducting discussions and, at the end of the 20s, joined the Grand Jeu group, with whom he shared an interest in Eastern philosophies. He contributed to the second issue of the review in 1929. That same year, he took part in the first Grand Jeu exhibition at Galerie Bonaparte and also decorated a new cabaret in Berlin in homage to Maldoror, leading to a clash with Breton who definitively dismissed him from the Surrealist group

Pierre Molinier

1900, Agen (FR)–1976, Bordeaux (FR)

A master of auto-eroticism and a provocative, rebellious figure, Pierre Molinier’s photographs with fetishes and risqué probing of gender caused quite a stir in Bordeaux. Nevertheless, he became part of the Bordeaux art scene and showed regularly at its Salon des Indépendants from 1928 until his last appearance in 1951, when his Grand combat caused a scandal. In 1954, at André Breton’s request, Molinier took part in issue 4 of the journal Le surréalisme, même, which presented the results of a questionnaire on striptease. His contribution was a self-portrait as a “magical girl”. To make his photomontages, Molinier cut up the prints of his portraits and self-portraits with scissors, then recomposed the bodies according to the codes of his ideal aesthetic using borrowed legs, arms and heads. Once the collage was complete, he photographed it then took it apart again to make new compositions.

Max von Moos

1903–1979, Lucerne (CH)

Max von Moos, whose parents were both painters, studied at the Lucerne School of Applied Arts. In 1929, he visited the Surrealist exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich, where the discovery of a painting by Max Ernst proved a decisive experience. His first Surrealist works appeared two years later, when he became involved in the Christian resistance against the rise of National Socialism. At the end of the 1930s, he produced works with a constructivist flavour, inspired by Hans Erni. In 1942, glaucoma forced him to undergo eye surgery, an experience that triggered a strong interest in anatomy. He worked on a radio programme titled “400 Years of Anatomy: 1953-1943”, which was never broadcast. He joined the Swiss Labour Party in 1944 and was a founder member of the local group of the “Swiss-Soviet Union Society”. In 1961, he had a retrospective at the Kunstmuseum in Lucerne.

Max Morise

1900, Versailles (FR)–1973, Paris (FR)

An artist and translator, Max Morise played an active part in the activities of the Parisian Surrealist group. For example, he ran the Bureau de Recherches Surréalistes (Surrealist Research Bureau) set up by André Breton, and took part in the collective creations of cadavres exquis and in the waking dream sessions held in Breton’s living room, which were designed to stimulate the imagination while reconnecting with unconscious desires and memories. In the first issue of the journal La Révolution Surréaliste in 1924, Morise published Les yeux enchantés, which questioned the relevance of pictorial art to a movement, Surrealism, that was essentially concerned with literature. In the 1930s, he played several small roles in films.

Meret Oppeneheim

1913, Berlin (DE)–1985, Basel (CH)

Leaving her studies incomplete, Meret Oppenheim went to Paris in 1932 with her compatriot, the painter Irène Zurkinden, and became involved with the Surrealist group, with whom she exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants in 1933. She joined the group but was mainly reduced to the role of muse, as evidenced by Man Ray’s nude photographs and portraits celebrating her androgynous beauty. In 1936, when she was earning a living designing jewellery and clothes for haute couture, MoMA in New York bought her Déjeuner en fourrure, as a result of which it became one of the most emblematic objects of Surrealism. In the same year, she had her first solo exhibition at the Schulthess gallery in Basel. Destitute, she returned to Basel in 1937 and her fortunes turned. She enjoyed growing success and the first of several major retrospectives was organised in 1967.

Benjamin Péret

1899, Rezé (FR)–1959, Paris (FR)

A loyal companion of André Breton, Benjamin Péret was an active and central member of the Surrealist group from the outset. He met Breton in 1919 and made a remarkable entry into the constellation of Surrealist poets with the publication of Le Passager du Transatlantique in 1921. With Pierre Nabille, he produced the first three issues of the journal La Révolution Surréaliste in 1924. He joined the Communist Party in 1927 and worked as a journalist for the newspaper L’Humanité. In 1936, he left to fight against Franco’s forces in Spain and met the painter Remedios Varo, who became his companion. During the Occupation, he took part in clandestine literary reviews and then fled to Marseille, where he joined other Surrealists waiting for a visa. He obtained his own visa for Mexico in 1941 and continued his Surrealist activities there.

Gisèle Prassinos

1920, Constantinople (TUR)–2015, Paris (FR)

Born into a Greek family forced to leave Turkey, Gisèle Prassinos arrived in Paris in 1922. In 1934, her brother Mario Prassinos introduced her to the Surrealists. Her gift for automatic writing fascinated the group, and the fourteen-year-old girl’s poems were published in Minotaure and Documents 34. In 1935, a selection of poems was published in La Sauterelle arthritique, her first book. She interrupted her secondary studies to learn shorthand typing and began working for a fakir. During this period, she produced Le Feu maniaque, which was published in 1936. She left the Surrealist group three years later. In 1958, she published Le temps n’est rien, and the following year La Voyageuse, both of which met with great success. From 1968 onwards, in addition to her literary work, she developed what she called her “craft”, producing a collection of wooden figures, embroideries, tapestries and fabric patchworks.

Mario Prassinos

1916, Constantinople (TUR)–1985, Avignon (FR)

Driven out of Turkey by Atatürk like the rest of the country’s Greeks, Mario Prassinos’s family settled in France in 1922. Thanks to his sister Gisèle, whose poems he illustrated with his first works in 1934, Mario became involved with the Surrealists. He developed a lyrical style and had his first exhibition in 1937 at Art Cruel. His paintings at the time, such as La Bataille de Fontenoy (1937), drew on Expressionism, Cubism and early Surrealism. He volunteered during the war, from which he returned wounded and decorated, enabling him to obtain French nationality nine years later. Between 1941 and the 1960s, he illustrated book covers for Gallimard. He left Paris in 1949 and settled in Eygalières in 1951, continuing to work on tapestries, drawings, illustrations and theatre sets.

Man Ray

1890 Philadelphia (US)–1976, Paris (FR)

A pioneer, along with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, of an expanded, non-retinal approach to art, Emmanuel Rudnitsky, better known as Man Ray, made a major contribution to the artistic debates of the 20th century through his polymorphous body of work, which included paintings, objects, assemblages, photographs and films. He grew up in New York, where he discovered the work of Marcel Duchamp at the Armory Show in 1913. Together they formed the New York section of the Dada group. In 1921, he joined the Surrealist group in Paris. Aided by his training as an industrial designer, he experimented with photographic processes such as solarisation and perfected photograms. His work is characterised by a transformation of the physical subject, as in his famous photograph Le violon d’Ingres (1924), in which he added sound holes to the naked back of a woman so as to merge her image with that of a violin, a fusion between subject and object – idea merging with image.

Hans Richter

1888, Berlin (DE)–1976, Minusio (CH)

Meeting Marinetti in Berlin in 1913 was an important event for Hans Richter; it confirmed his fascination with technological discoveries. He moved to Zurich in 1916, where he met the Swedish film-maker Viking Eggeling, whose influence would be decisive for his future cinema work. He joined the Dada movement and developed a quasi-abstract style of painting in 1918, focusing schematically on breaking down movement. He returned to Berlin in the 1920s and his film experiments began in earnest in 1925. He travelled to the United States when the Second World War broke out, and joined forces with other exiled European artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. His 1941 film Dreams that Money Can Buy was never marketed, but had a clear influence on the post-war New York avant-garde.

Robert Rius

1914, Perpignan–1944, Fontainebleau

Secretary to André Breton in the late 1930s and during the Second World War, Robert Rius published his first literary essays at an early age. After a short stay in Toulouse, between 1932 and 1935 he established himself in Paris, where he made a living from odd jobs. His encounter with the Surrealists around 1937 proved decisive. Co-founder with Benjamin Péret, Breton and Remedios Varo of the Surrealist game Dessins Communiqués in 1937, he was at the centre of the group’s playful and creative experiments. During the war, he refused to leave Paris and set up a literary resistance by publishing the clandestine Surrealist review La main à plume, which published Paul Éluard’s poem Liberté, and joined the armed resistance. Captured by the Nazi army, he was incarcerated in Fontainebleau, where he was executed at the age of 30.

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern

1892, Kaukehmen (UK)–1982, Berlin (DE)

Born in Russia near the German border, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern was the second of thirteen children. He received almost no education and was placed in a reformatory at the age of 14, before being committed to the Sovetsk clinic in 1918 after the theft of a horse for which he was declared non-responsible. After being released, he moved to Berlin, where he lived under the false name of Gustav Gnass. Convicted several times, he was interned in a psychiatric hospital, which is where he began to draw. His scandalous depictions of composite creatures in carnivalesque scenes and often sexualised postures found recognition at the end of the 1940s, particularly in Surrealist circles. In 1959, he was invited by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp to take part in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme E.R.O.S at Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris.

Sonja Sekula

1918, Lucerne (CH)–1963, Zürich (CH)

The daughter of a Hungarian father, Sonja Sekula studied art in Budapest and Florence. In 1936, her family moved form Lucerne to New York, where from the early 1940s she mixed with some of the Surrealists who had taken refuge in America, as well as Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. She befriended John Cage and Merce Cunningham, for whom she designed dance costumes. The decade that followed was her most productive, when her biomorphic forms, oscillating between Surrealism and abstract expressionism, met with growing success. On her travels she discovered the native cultures of North America, which would inform her work. She first exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of this Century, as part of the Exhibition by 31 Women in 1943. However, the mental instability that had plagued her since her youth became more pronounced. A few weeks after her 45th birthday, she committed suicide in her studio in Zurich.

Kurt Seligmann

1920, Basel (CH)–1962, Sugar Loaf (US)

Kurt Seligmann came to Paris in 1929 and from 1934 took part in meetings of the Surrealist group, with whom he shared a taste for the occult, the spiritual and magical symbolism. He pursued his artistic career there after taking private art lessons in Basel and attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva. In 1932, Seligmann made his artistic breakthrough with a solo exhibition at Galerie Jeanne Bucher and a group exhibition with Hans Arp, Serge Brignoni and Hans Rudolf Schiess in Basel and Bern. In 1938, he took part in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme. In New York, where he settled in 1939, he acted as an intermediary between the exiled European Surrealists and the emerging artists of the New York School. In 1948, he published his Mirror of Magic, a cult book that traces the development of magic and the occult from ancient Egypt to the 18th century.

Joseph Sima

1891, Jaromer (CZ)–1971, Paris (FR)

A Czech painter living in Paris, Joseph Sima’s dreamlike, poetic paintings flirt with symbolism. Born in Bohemia, the son of a stonemason and drawing teacher, he was predestined for an artistic career. He studied fine art in Prague before arriving in Paris in 1921. He was naturalised five years later and met the leading Surrealists, notably André Breton and Paul Éluard. His 1929 portrait of Roger Gilbert-Lecomte testifies to his involvement in the Grand Jeu group, founded in 1928, a year after he met the Phrères Simplistes, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, René Daumal, Roger Vaillant and Robert Meyrat. The latter saw several affinities between his work and essential aspects of their poetic and literary approach, and integrated him into their group. In 1929, for their first exhibition, Révolutions et révélations, Sima painted portraits of his comrades.

Yves Tanguy

1900, Paris (FR)–1955, Woodbury (US)

A painter of waiting and silence, Yves Tanguy discovered Surrealism in the early 1920s through the journal La Révolution surréaliste. Influenced by a Giorgio de Chirico painting, the landscapes in his first works from 1925 combine an expressionist and naive aesthetic with fantastical elements. He met the Surrealists and took part in their exhibitions, where he developed automatic drawing and collage, and took part in the collective cadavres exquis sessions. He tired of these experiments and returned to an essentially pictorial practice. The work in his first solo exhibition of 1927 was already notable for its mineral landscapes inhabited by cellular forms. In 1938, at the Salon des Surindépendants, he discovered the works of Kay Sage. He joined her in the United States the following year, and they married in 1940. He became an American citizen seven years later.

Dorothea Tanning

1910, Galesburg (US)–2012, New York (US)

A Surrealist painter and muse, Dorothea Tanning was a central figure in the American part of the movement, notably because of the legendary couple she formed with Max Ernst. Trained in Chicago, she moved to New York in 1936, where a few years later she became acquainted with the Surrealists in exile. She exhibited her work at the Exhibition by 31 Women, an important show organised by Peggy Guggenheim in 1943, and later at the Julien Levy Gallery. Her post-war works explore the traumas, anxieties and fears of childhood, and female sexual fantasies in which the contortions of desire subjugate animal or human creatures, as in My Life in the Blue Room (1943). These hallucinatory visions often appear in the form of hypertrophied sunflowers in a bewitching, dreamlike coldness, as in The Mirror, 1950.

Raoul Ubac

1910, Cologne (DE)–1985, Dieudonné (FR)

Born into a bourgeois family of German and Belgian origin, Raoul Ubac grew up in the Belgian Ardennes, where he cultivated a taste for solitude and walking, and began taking photographs. He became interested in Surrealism, which chimed with his desire to emancipate obscure forces. He took part in the group’s activities and published his first works in Minotaure, especially his photographic experiments with solarisation, superimposition and chemical alteration of the negative, making the subject dissolve into the image. He distanced himself from the movement during the war, then abandoned it for good in 1946, also putting an end to his photographic practice. Instead he producd paintings, gouaches, engravings, mosaics, low-reliefs and tapestries. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1968.

Remedios Varo

1908, Anglés (ES)–1963, Mexico City (MX)

Born in Girona, Remedios Varo studied at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. She moved to Barcelona in 1932, where she came into contact with the Catalan avant-garde and joined the Logicophobists group, which sought to unite art with metaphysics. She met Benjamin Péret in 1936 and followed him to Paris the following year, where she became acquainted with the Surrealist group and took part in its exhibitions. She fled Paris in 1940 and took temporary refuge at Villa Air Bel in Marseille with other Surrealists. In 1941, Varo and Péret moved to Mexico, where she painted, restored pre-Columbian artefacts, designed costumes and conceived advertising campaigns. She had her first solo exhibition there in 1955, where her meticulous painting, similar to that of Hieronymus Bosch which she had discovered at the Prado, enjoyed great success.

Marie Vassilieff

1884, Smolensk (RU)–1957, Nogent-sur-Marne (FR)

Born into a family of landowners, Marie Vassilieff was admitted to the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg in 1903. Awarded a scholarship; she left for Paris in 1905. There, in the 1910s, she developed her first Cubist-inspired paintings and began to make her first “Portrait Dolls”, inspired by Russian folk tradition and tribal arts, which were in vogue at the time. Her 1938 work Dolls bears witness to this dual inspiration and puts the theme of childhood, a subject she was particularly fond of, at the centre of the painting. She became an important figure on the Montmartre avant-garde scene of the 1910s. On the eve of the Second World War, she left Paris and settled in the South of France. With their flowers and religious icons, the colourful paintings of this period evoked her native Russia.

Irène Zurkinden

1909–1987 Basel (CH)

Irène Zurkinden moved to Paris in 1929 on a scholarship she received while training as a fashion designer in Basel. There she frequented her compatriot Meret Oppenheim and other artists from the Surrealist group. Her Impressionist-inspired works show figures, urban landscapes and intimate scenes. She painted portraits of her close entourage, in which rapid brushstrokes show a virtuoso fleetness and indicate an interest in staging through by means of costume and cosmetic ornamentation. She returned to Basel in 1941 and exhibited for the first time the following year. Her travels in the 1930s informed her painting and her growing interest in landscape, and were accompanied by numerous solo and group exhibitions, notably in Basel, where she had a major exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in 1985.

Unica Zürn

1916, Berlin (DE)–1970 Paris (FR)

Mixing writing and drawing in Indian ink, Unica Zürn’s work stands out for its singularity and its intermedia quality, with verbal language intermingling with pictorial language. She moved to Paris with Hans Bellmer, whom she had met in Berlin in 1953 and who introduced her to the Surrealist group, notably André Breton, Meret Oppenheim, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. She produced her first Anagrams, in which she began to explore the various states of being of a polymorphous subjectivity. This concept was informed by Zürn’s successive crises and her many stays in psychiatric institutions. Her Der Mann im Jasmin, written in an institution between 1963 and 1965, bears witness to the importance of mental illness and schizophrenia in her work. In 1959, she took part in the Exposition Surréaliste Internationale at Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris. She committed suicide in 1970.

2nd floor


Inventing new forms to reflect a world that is going through profound changes, the artists brought together here, although not openly referencing historical Surrealism in their work, are nonethe­less the movement’s undisciplined and courageous grandchildren. At the same time, through the diversity of their approaches, they reaffirm their mistrust of language and their faith in the omnipotence of narrative in its poetic and political significance; they express their fascination with the limit between the visible and the invisible; and they celebrate the omnipresence of eroticism. The exhibition has been conceived and laid out as a vast landscape in which works of art coexist, pieces that revitalise the exquisite corpse approach to making art, an exercise in reconciling reality and imagination.

Tristan Bartolini

(b.1997, lives and works in Geneva)

Playing on the codes of occultism and science fiction, Channeling Ancestors (2022–2024), an installation designed to look like both a ritual space and a scene lifted from some space opera, aims to evoke a recollection of an earlier existence. Artefacts of monumental size are vestiges of an extinct civilisation and are infused with life and movement thanks to projections that show extraterrestrial entities that speak in their own language, relating the history of their society. Drawing inspiration from the life and work of the Genevan medium Elise Müller, Tristan Bartolini fashions an alter ego from his own body through which he calls forth a queer genealogy in a retro-futurist approach.

Gorge Bataille

(b.1985, lives and works in Paris)

Gorge Bataille likes to “hack” literature to
undermine its authority. Their poetry springs from the clash and subtle mix of different types of language. With Fatal*e (2024), they have developed a text that questions the loss of meaning and the quest for beauty. Reconnecting with the literary avant-garde, they have composed a strange object that has neither beginning nor end, like a score whose different sequences would be endlessly reproducible. Working with the graphic designer Roxanne Maillet, they have transcribed on a grand scale a poetry rich in images and steeped in a rebellious adolescent language that fills with emojis when it comes up short. An unruly postbinary typographic wave, Fatal*e is part of the research the author has been carrying out on the Langue Bâtarde (Bastard Language).

Matthias Garcia

(b.1994, lives and works in Paris)

The omnipotence of tales and the modification of narrative under the effects of the imagination are central to Matthias Garcia’s work. Through the figure of the mermaid, he is continuously reformulating the meaning of his paintings. While in Andersen’s cruel tale the little mermaid, learning that the human soul is eternal, rejects her hybrid nature, Garcia’s mermaid is seeking acceptance of her difference. As the characters and motifs rise from the setting, an inner landscape appears that is inhabited by fantastic creatures and children-flowers imbued with an intimate symbolism. A story with a very different moral begins to take shape, like a possible reconciliation between dream and reality.

Maëlle Gross

(b.1988, lives and works in Lausanne)

Interested in the history of witchcraft and
its connection with feminism, Maëlle Gross has taken a fresh look at the figure of Elise Müller, whom the Surrealists likened to a lunatic clairvoyant, making her into a source of inspiration. In the late 19th century, the Genevan medium, who went by the name of Hélène Smith, experienced sleep-walking trances during which she had visions. In particular, she collected texts that were in Martian and which she transcribed in French, developing on her own a kind of automatic writing. In her installation, the artist appropriates this Martian alphabet to invent a new poetry while redoing episodes of apparitions, spirits, and ghosts by giving the “wicked beast of Astané” the concrete form of a low-tech robot that has arrived from an imaginary country.

Anne Le Troter

(b.1985, lives and works in Paris)

In her work, Anne Le Troter explores the plasticity of language and the way in which it is tainted by capitalist dictates about efficiency and output. Originating in a series of troubling dreams, La Pornoplante (2021–2024) is the story of a transmutation, from man to plant, through the colourful erotic account of an erection that grows in the sun and declines in autumn in keeping with nature’s cycle. The text is inspired by ASMR techniques (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), a method for relaxing that has been in vogue for a dozen years now.

Charlie Malgat

(b.1990, lives and works in Paris)

Charlie Malgat invites us to stroll around
her installation Double Paysage (2024), a soft abstract forest of burnt trees that has sprouted strange pinkish orifices. Covered by a latex envelope, the artist’s favoured material with its fleshy sensual dimension, these inert bodies demand to be caressed. The artist explores the murky areas on the fringes of inside and outside, skins that reveal on the surface what has been patiently constructed and assembled within. With her new video, she introduces a cartoonish character that is both dripping wet and likeable, a kind of farcical alter ego of the artist in a state of decomposition.

Lou Masduraud

(b.1990, lives and works in Geneva)

In her installations, Lou Masduraud is interested in the supply systems ensuring the infrastructure that is essential to human activities, such as street lighting, sewers, and underground passageways. For Spit Kiss from Earth (2022), she was inspired by the fountain that Meret Oppenheim designed for Bern’s Waisenhausplatz, an ever-changing biotope. To this organic transformation, the artist has added an erotic dimension with the mouth issuing a stream of water. The presence of orifices, which can also be seen on the walls surrounding the fountain, is a recurring theme in the artist’s work. As an interface between the visible and the concealed, the social body and the private, intimate body, the hole serves as a metonymy that goes beyond the simple mechanics of desire. It also offers the possibility of a break, an invitation to explore the unknown.

Jakob Rowlinson

(b.1990, lives and works in London)

The imaginative universe of Jakob Rowlinson combines the natural world and medieval symbolism to question the representation of desire and masculinity over time. Fashioned from recycled materials, his masks reappropriate iconographic elements from the Tarot deck while also suggesting the masks used during Carnival or in sex games. The leather faces are hollow, but their perforations lend them a powerful fetishistic dimension. Using a complex technique of collage and assemblage, he employs motifs drawn from the decorative arts and medieval manuscripts, like fig leaves and ferns, to decorate his odd bestiary.

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