Surrealist Women: Kay Sage

Le Passage-Kay Sage  1956
Although her work is unmistakably Surrealist in style and content, was married to the Surrealist Yves Tanguy and she always considered herself a Surrealist, Kay Sage occupies a marginal position within the history of the movement. However Sage’s disquieting vision of a hastily abandoned future set in a largely depopulated world, where the vast horizons exude a tangible atmosphere of menace and doom, places her firmly in the fore-front of New World surrealists.

This neglect maybe because of Sage’s, by most accounts, difficult personality. Born into a wealthy and powerful New York family, she grew up mainly in France and Italy and her first marriage was to an idle, dissolute Italian nobleman. In 1935 she decided to become a independent artist and left her husband, obtaining a divorce through Papal decree. In 1938 she visited the International Surrealist Exhibit at Galerie Beaux-Arts and was so struck by a work by Di Chirico, La Surprise, that she brought the painting which was to remain in her possession until her death. Sage also saw and adored a Tanguy , ‘I’m Waiting For You’. She changed her style from semi-abstraction to the surreal. In one of her first solo exhibitions Tanguy was so moved that he decided to seek Sage out. A meeting was arranged where they were immediately taken with one another. They certainly shared artistic affinities; their respective dream worlds are among the strangest envisioned by any of the Surrealists. The other members of the Surrealist group were not so taken with Sage however. They disliked her haughty and imperious manner and the relationship caused a rift between Tanguy and Breton, who had formerly been close.

With the outbreak of WWII Sage moved back to the States and arranged for Tanguy to join her. They were married in Reno in 1940. They settled in Woodbury, Connecticut where they would remain until their deaths. The relationship was an intense and troubled one. Sage’s solitary and forbidding character discouraged the many artists who visited Woodbury from returning, not helped at all by their explosive drunken arguments at parties. Regardless of any difficulties experienced Sage was devastated by Tanguy early death, caused by a stroke, in 1955. She almost completely stopped painting, the above work Le Passage being one of the few notable exceptions, also notable in that a recognizable human figure, believed to be a self-portrait, is depicted. Instead she made small sculptures made out of wire and bullets, an eerie premonition of her suicide in 1963 when she shot herself in the heart. Her poignant suicide note reads “The first painting by Yves that I saw, before I knew him, was called ‘I’m Waiting for You.’ I’ve come. Now he’s waiting for me again — I’m on my way.”

46 thoughts on “Surrealist Women: Kay Sage

  1. Wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing this!
    I´m in a very surrealistic mood today – I´ve been to a Lee Miller exhibition that´s currently held in Berlin and it was fantastic! I´m sure you´d have liked it very much, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel guilty now that I haven’t written that post on Surrealist suicide…it will take me a while because it was a pre-occupation and a number of artists and writers did commit suicide but I promise that it will be forthcoming shortly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It certainly reads as though they were perfect for each other in spite of some small quirks here and there. Sage’s work is amazing. “Le Passage” is beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking. Wonderful post Mr. Cake, thank you for letting me know about it. ~ Miss Cranes

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  3. Thanks for sharing this Alex! I love when WordPress feeds you artistic insight. I am a great lover of Surrealism, though have little knowledge of Sage’s work or life. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I neglected to give you the coveted ‘like’ the last time you posted this. And since then I saw Tomorrow Is Never in person. These paintings are eerily fantastic. Very drawn to them and besides Toyen, this may be my next favorite of the artists you’ve featured.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow!! That was some story of Kay sage….
    although she ended her life on a sad Note..,

    But I’m learning here from you..,
    I love to know stories like these..
    and the history behind a painting .. what inspired it.., and what it meant to the artist…

    It strange how we appreciate it more when we know the story behind it…,
    So thanks for sharing..
    especially those contemporary pieces….

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your site is like a university course; yet engaging and entertaining, rather than pedantic. I am grateful that someone has chosen to keep Dada, Surrealism, and other works of the twentieth century alive. Thank you for that. I will be back for more.
    Chazz Vincent

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind comments. I would like to think that they are live traditions, though they have been rather co-opted since their initial inception. But it is good to return to the source.


      1. Perhaps the litmus-test is whether the Art is a natural product of the artist, rather than an affectation of style.
        When new ground is broken in a medium or genre, it takes a critic to name it; correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think Picasso woke up one day and said “I think I’ll invent Cubism”….
        After the fact, Zappa comes to mind as latter-day Dada as Musical social commentary, and early Dylan or Hendrix for lyrical Surrealism; then again, “In naming me you ‘thing’ me out of existence.”
        The real challenge as an artist is to be well-read and thoroughly acculturated and still somehow original.
        “All things return to the One” and I never tire of going to your site.
        Chazz Vincent

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much Chazz. It is a hard choice, the Surrealists believed in group action and it yielded results but obviously artists are not the sort to deny their own individual genius for long. Thanks for the support it is much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

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