About Surrealism

Surrealism was possibly the defining art movement between the two world wars. It was started by Andre Breton in c1920 and was borne out of Dadaism. Dada was a form of anti-art that deliberately defied reason. Dadaism was also aimed at negation, whereas the surrealist movement aimed to be a more positive expressive art form. Initially it consisted of a series of journals and poetry.

It went on to include may different art forms including poetry and literature. In this site I will concentrate upon the artwork of the surrealist movement. The main themes underlying much of the work included eroticism, socialism, dreams and the subconscious, atheism and symbolism.

Archimboldo - Winter 1563

Like its predecessor, Dadaism, Surrealism threw off the shackles of contemporary culture and sought to shock and rebuke the conventional notions of reality. The unconscious played a large role in surrealist works and one of the underlying themes was to try to create images of such unconscious worlds and fuel them with the animal desire that lay in each of us. Such latent sexuality was achieved through the use of symbolism and the placing of objects where they wouldnt normally be.This would also give the objects a new life outside of the one in conventional reality. Such techniques are widely and successfully used in advertising today in order to manipulate the common perception of the product on sale. In this sense Surrealism was one of the leading influences, certainly in painting and sculpture and also perhaps culturally, in the 20th century.

Early influences

Some early influences include Italian Paolo Uccello, the British poet and artist William Blake, and the Frenchman Odilon Redon. The duality of the real and the surreal can also be found in the double images of Arcimboldo as early as the 1500s. The Austrian Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, a friend particularly to Salvador Dali, can also be credited as having much influence on the works. His work as the "father of psychodynamics" was popular at the time and showed itself in much of the work. However Freud apparently believed the surrealists to be "quite mad" and was only really socially closely related to Dali, who visited him.

Magritte,Duchamp,Ernst and Ray 1960

Surrealist exhibitions often included the works of several artists that were not part of the surrealist movement. These included the work of Italian Giorgio de Chirico, the Russian Marc Chagall, the Swiss Paul Klee, the French artists Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, and the Spaniard Pablo Picasso. Actual members of the movement included German Max Ernst, the Frenchman Jean Arp, and the American painter and photographer Man Ray from 1924 onwards. Frenchman André Masson and the Spaniard Joan Miro joined after 1925 and they were joined later on by French-American Yves Tanguy, the Belgian Rene Magritte, and the Swiss Alberto Giacometti. Catalan Salvador Dali joined in 1930 and , despite being the most famous member of the movement, was only part of it for two years. A difference of opinion between Dali and other surrealists about Dali's motivation meant he had to leave. It was thought his ideas were in sharp contrast to the surrealist ethic in that his ends were commercial.


dreamlike: suggesting or having qualities associated with surrealism, for example bizarre landscapes and distorted objects
dreamlike qualities or character: the bizarre or unreal qualities associated with surrealism


1. art movement: an early 20th-century movement in art and literature that tried to represent the subconscious mind by creating fantastic imagery and juxtaposing elements that seem to contradict each other
2. type of art: surreal art or literature

[Early 20th century. From French surréalisme, literally "beyond realism." ]

Rene Magritte

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