Surrealism was a movement which began in the 1920s of writers and artists (including Salvador Dalí and René Magritte), who experimented with ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination
- Introduction to the surrealist movement
- Surrealist artists in focus
- Surrealism in context
- Other perspectives on the surrealists
- Surrealism in detail
‘As Breton says, surrealism is not just an art movement. It is a way of thinking, a way of transforming existence.’ Watch former art student and Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi explain surrealism in five minutes.
Surrealism was launched in Paris in 1924 by French poet André Breton with the publication of his Manifesto of Surrealism.
Breton was strongly influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud identified a deep layer of the human mind where memories and our most basic instincts are stored. He called this the unconscious, since most of the time we are not aware of it. The aim of surrealism was to reveal the unconscious and reconcile it with rational life. Surrealism also aimed at social and political revolution and for a time was affiliated to the Communist party.
Surrealism became an international movement, widely influencing art, literature and the cinema as well as social attitudes and behaviour. Surrealist groups formed around the globe including, in 1936, the British Surrealist group with artist Paul Nash and critic Herbet Read among its founding members.
Types of surrealism
There was no single style of surrealist art but two broad types can be seen.
- One was the oneiric (dream-like) work of Salvador Dalí, early Max Ernst, and René Magritte. (Freud believed that dreams revealed the workings of the unconscious, and his famous book The Interpretation of Dreams was central to surrealism).
- The other was the automatism of later Max Ernst and Joan Miró. Automatism was the surrealist term for Freud’s technique of free association, which he also used to reveal the unconscious mind of his patients.
Surrealism in Tate’s collection
- See surrealist artworks in Tate’s collection
- Or browse the selection of works in the slideshow below
Surrealism: Desire Unbound
This exhibition, which was on display at Tate Modern in 2002, charted the varied paths of surrealist desire, ranging from the sublime to the transgressive. Read the room guide and see which works were on display.
Watch two of the curators of the 2011 Tate Modern exhibition Miró, Matthew Gale and Marko Daniel, select three of Miró’s artworks to explore up close.
The Menaced Assassin
Curator Darren Pih tells us why The Menaced Assassin is one of his favourite Magritte paintings.
Curator Chris Stephens discusses what else was happening in the art world when surrealism was an established movement.
The great collaborator
Read an interview with José Montes Baquer on his first impressions of Dalí when making a film with him in 1976.
Desmond Morris on Joan Miró
‘He was polite and reserved, the exact opposite to his paintings’. Zoologist and TV presenter Desmond Morris talks about meeting Miró…and his fascination for Congo the painting chimpanzee.
Surrealism and popular culture
Although not directly referencing popular culture, surrealism has had a huge influence on design and film.
See Dalí’s work come to life in this film about Dalí’s collaboration with Disney.
Album graphic designer Storm Thorgerson discusses his love of Magritte and the artist’s influence on his work: ‘I think I took away from Magritte a love of oddity or oddness.’
Surrealism and film study day recordings
Watch specialists from the art and film worlds discuss Dali’s work in relation to the wider links between surrealism and film, in these video recordings of the 2007 Tate study day
Becoming Machine: Surrealist Automatism and Some Contemporary Instances
This research article by David Lomas examines the history of automatism from the late nineteenth century to the present day, exploring the intersections between physiology, psychology, poetry and art.
Tate’s painting conservation studio examines Salvador Dalí’s Forgotten Horizon 1936
Get a closer look at Dalí’s Forgotten Horizon as the conservation team take us through infra red light and mircroscope analysis as a starting point for conserving paintings.