The Pope of Surrealism

Andre Breton-Man Ray 1929
Quite by accident (a happy accident, I hope) this site has been mainly concerned with Surrealism. There have been detours into Decadence, Symbolism and the Situationists and I have occasionally veered into original fiction, poetry and the esoteric; but on the whole Surrealism has always been hovering in the wings when it hasn’t been firmly centre-stage.

There is one name that recurs more than any other in my posts and yet not one post (until now) has been sorely concerned with Andre Breton. The authoritarian and charismatic  Andre Breton is inseparable from Surrealism. Surrealism as a movement was the creation of Breton and the terminus of ‘official’ Surrealism is always given as the time of his death in 1966. He laid down the theoretical premises of the movement in the First Surrealist Manifesto published in 1924, organised the publications, provocations and exhibitions that made Surrealism a truly international phenomenon; recruited and cultivated many bright artistic talents who, although they may have left or been expelled never really ceased being Surrealists. In the Second Surrealist Manifesto of 1930 he maintained the ideological purity of Surrealism by a mass purge of members who showed a lack of sufficient zeal for the cause, earning Breton the dubious honorific ‘The Pope of Surrealism’. It was Breton, and Breton alone, who determined whether a poem, painting or person was Surrealist.

A full biography of the eventful life of such a forceful personality, who was at the centre of the international avant-garde for over four decades is beyond the scope of a short post. Apart from the Manifestos he published the Surrealist novel Nadja, a collection of automatic writings The Magnetic Fields (with Phillippe Soupault), numerous volumes of poetry including the magnificent Free Union and the book of art criticism Surrealism and Painting. He owned galleries and was a dealer in art and artefacts as well as being a keen and discerning collector.

It is only fitting that I close with Breton’s definition of Surrealism from the First Manifesto. Whatever his personal faults and the ultimate failure of his vision, Breton never wavered in his commitment to the movement that he originated:

SURREALISM, noun. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express-verbally, by means of the written word or in any other manner-the actual function of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

51 thoughts on “The Pope of Surrealism

  1. Wonderful bio of someone I knew nothing about. I especially appreciated the precise definition of surrealism. It’s somewhat different from, and yet exactly what I thought it was. Entertaining and educational as always, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you as always, it really should have been my first post instead of the 100th, but nothing has really been planned it just grew. Just one of the many blogging rules I have broken, but I wasn’t aware of them. His wives were beautiful, his second wife Jacqueline Lamba had the affair with Frida Kahlo which I posted about and you kindly re-blogged. Your kindness and generosity has always been touching.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So this was your 100th post back in May? A nice post for a milestone! And a good introduction for a novice (I suppose I should’ve read this one months ago, ah well…) I am glad you included the definition of Surrealism. I’m reading a Yeats biography and the idea of automatism seems to be a recurring theme. Interesting times, interesting movement and interesting art in all its forms. Bravo, Monsieur. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, it was my 100th post though my audience was a bit smaller back then, hence the amount of re-posts. Automatism was very big around that time, also Austin Osman Spare did automatic drawings. It was a very interesting time, though I suppose their concerns seem impossibly quaint compared to the post modern world with its technology, amnesia and unself reflecting narcissism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That post WWI era was such a hugely transformational time. Politically, economically, technologically. The art/literature/theater/music of the times is a natural outworking of those sweeping changes. Goodbye to the dynasties, hello to the revolution.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Very informative post Mr. Cake, seems like you could easily devote an entire week to “The Pope of Surrealism”. I didn’t know the following, “It was Breton, and Breton alone, who determined whether a poem, painting or person was Surrealist.” That’s a pretty powerful position. Wonderful that you included Breton’s own definition of Surrealism, there’s something very magical about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miss Cranes for your kind comments. As Breton has featured in the last three posts I will spare yourself and my readers anymore posts about Breton for a little while, though you are indeed correct, I could do a week of posts. I have taken a less dogmatic approach regarding what is Surreal than the party line, but he had absolute say during his lifetime, and his influence on culture, seen and unseen, is still felt today. Thanks again for your unfailing support.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I must comment that I’ve found when people are at a loss as to their understanding of a particular piece of art (or writing), they exclaim, “its so surreal” without the slightest understanding of the real depth of the movement!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was quite some collection, around 5000 manuscripts, artwork from Picasso, Dali, Magritte and a massive collection of Oceanic and Native American Art. It was so crowded that only two people could enter. It was also in a bad neighbourhood, surrounded by strip clubs and clip joints. The collection sold for about 25 million euro.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for following my posts.
    I have just discovered Faringdon in Oxfordshire, which had links to the Surrealists, through Lord Berners. Salvador Dali walked through the town wearing his diver’s helmet and there is a commemorative sculpture outside the Tourist Info Office!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder if you have ever found the books of Robert Irwin? HE wrote a good one on 1920’s surrealism titled Exquisite Corpse, he is such a good writer, at least in terms of subject matter he chooses. HE wrote one about the Order of the Golden Dawn (or whatever) titled Satan Wants me, which was my introduction, and I also read “Arabian Nightmare” (Your post titled The Sleepers reminded me of it) Its set in the muslim world, at a time when they are interested in the nature of dreams, its quite surreal! Love his books, I shall have to read some more

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh please, never delete this site. It is such a wonderful source of information and incredibly enjoyable and stimulating. Surrealism has always been a movement that fascinated me, but I have never made it the subject of intense focus. (If you ever get the urge to delete, consider pw protection so many of us can revisit your articles.)

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s