This drawing depicts the unusual rock formations found in the mountains of Montserrat situated some fifty kilometres from Barcelona, Spain. Inscribed ‘December 1934’, it is one of many drawings the artist André Masson made during his self-imposed exile in Spain. Fleeing political unrest in Paris in mid-1934, Masson and his companion and future wife Rose Maklès, sought a more tranquil existence in the small Catalan village of Tossa del Mar. While in Spain Masson made many topographical drawings of the surrounding locality and it very likely that he made this pencil drawing in situ.
The drawing recalls Masson’s connections with the surrealist group, both in his loose drawing technique which relates to automatic drawings he had made the previous decade and in the anthropomorphic rock shapes which are suggestive of human limbs, fingers and hands. The rocks also have a strongly elemental quality, invoking the awesome power of the natural world, and perhaps reflect a romantic attitude to Spain and its rugged terrain. Masson would no doubt have also been aware of the strongly spiritual aspect to the area of Montserrat. The mountain has been a site of pilgrimage since the ninth century following a series of holy visions experienced by a group of shepherds who are said to have seen a bright light descending from the sky. Something of the mystical associations with the landscape are expressed through the artist’s fluid handling of the sky and the distant mountain ranges whose wave-like forms appear to continue into infinity.
Only a short time after making this drawing, Montserrat was to take on a momentous place in Masson’s life. In early January 1935, while the artist was sketching the sunset over Montserrat, clouds descended over the mountain peak, forcing Masson and Rose to wait until the following morning before climbing down. While stranded on the mountain-top, Masson experienced a near-religious revelation: ‘the sky itself appeared to me like an abyss, something which I had never felt before – the vertigo above and the vertigo below. And I found myself in a sort of maelstrom, almost a tempest, and as though hysterical. I thought I was going mad.’ (André Masson quoted in David Lomas, The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis, Subjectivity, New Haven and London 2000, p.42.) In June 1936 Masson’s poem Du Haut de Montserrat (At Montserrat’s Height) was published in the surrealist journal Minotaure and illustrated with a painting by Masson of the Montserrat landscape.
André Masson: The 1930s, exhibition catalogue, Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg 1999.
Dawn Ades, André Masson, Barcelona 1994.