The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Dada and Surrealism

What is Surrealism?

Like Dada, Surrealism was an early twentieth-century movement that made a major impact on art and literature between the First and Second World Wars. In 1924, French poet André Breton (1896–1966) wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto in which he called on writers to free themselves from the restrictions of rationality and explore creativity through subconscious means, including free association, dream analysis, and automatic writing and drawing. The word “surreal” suggests the merging of dreams with reality to reveal a superior, more inclusive reality. Breton credited Sigmund Freud with developing the foundations of Surrealism in his studies in psychoanalysis.

Key Surrealist artists include Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), Max Ernst (1891–1976), André Masson (1896–1987), Joan Mirò (1893–1983), Man Ray (18901976), René Magritte (1898–1967), and Salvador Dali (1904–1989), among others. The work of the Surrealists is characterized by shocking, often erotic imagery, such as René Magritte’s fusion of the nude female form with a face in his oil painting, Le viol (1934), and the juxtaposition of surprising, seemingly unconnected elements. For example, Meret Oppenheim covered a cup, saucer, and spoon with fur in her Objet (le déjeuner en fourrure) in 1936. Like many other examples of Surrealist art, these disorienting works were inspired by Freudian symbolism and dream analysis.


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