Art and life were part of a single continuum for the surrealists. Lovers were treated as muses, to be venerated in poetry, or immortalised on canvas. This section looks at surrealist writings on love and desire, and shows how closely related they were to the authors’ experiences of love.

A celebrated example is André Breton’s novel Nadja (1928), an account of his intense but brief relationship with a young woman whom he caught sight of in the street. In the novel, Breton attempts to understand the mysterious woman and his contradictory feelings about her. This questioning approach towards his own thoughts and behaviour is present in the very first line of the book: ‘Who am I?’ As so often in surrealist texts and art, the path of desire ultimately leads to an exploration of the self.

Bringing together a number of original manuscripts, photographs and rare and precious volumes owned by some of the great writers of the movement, the section shows something of the joy and despair that inspired the poets’ meditations on the nature of love.