David Gascoyne

Perseus and Andromeda


Not on display

David Gascoyne 1916–2001
Printed papers on paper
Support: 178 × 248 mm
frame: 375 × 440 × 20 mm
Purchased 1987

Display caption

David Gascoyne had a prolific career as a poet, artist and translator. Born in Harrow, Middlesex, Gascoyne published his first collection of poetry when he was sixteen. Perseus and Andromeda was produced a year after he wrote 'A Short Survey of Surrealism', which established his reputation as one of the earliest advocates of Surrealism in England. In the following years he built up an international reputation, and in 1996 he was made Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, in recognition of his sustained contribution to French Literature.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T05025 Perseus and Andromeda 1936

Collage of printed papers 179 × 250 (7 × 9 3/4)
Inscribed in pencil on mount ‘Perseus and Andromeda’ b.l. and ‘David Gascoyne 4/36’ b.r.
Printed inscriptions ‘CK’ b.l. and ‘WA’b.r.
Purchased from Julian Andrews (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Prov: ...; Julian Andrews, bought in London c. 1980
Exh: International Surrealist Exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, June–July 1936(113); Peinture surréaliste en Angleterre 1930–1960, Galerie 1900–2000, Paris, May–June 1982 (51, repr. p.46); British Surrealism - Fifty Years On, Mayor Gallery, March–April 1986 (49, repr.); Angels of Anarchy and Machines for Making Clouds: Surrealism in Britain in the Thirties, Leeds City Art Gallery, Oct.–Dec. 1986 (151, repr. p.173); Surrealismi - Surrealism, Retretti Art Centre, Punkaharju, Finland, May–Sept. 1987
Lit: David Gascoyne, A Short Survey of Surrealism, 1935, 3rd ed., 1970, p.106; Michel Remy, David Gascoyne - ou l'urgence de l'inexprimé, Nancy 1984, pp.111–14, repr. p.113; Michel Remy, ‘Surrealism's Vertiginous Descent on Britain’, in Angels of Anarchy and Machines for Making Clouds: Surrealism in Britain in the Thirties, exh. cat., Leeds City Art Galleries 1986, pp.24–5, 163

This collage is based on a late Victorian engraving of seals and seabirds. To it the artist has added, at the left, the image of a man partly enclosed in metal casing, to the right, a large configuration of coral and, below it, a tennis racquet on which lies the head of a woman.

In addition to his long career as a poet, and his role in the 1930s as promoter of Surrealism in Britain, David Gascoyne at two periods also made works of art. The ‘Perseus and Andromeda’ collage belongs to the first of these periods, and may be the only surviving example. The second period was during the 1950s, when he exhibited some abstract drawings.

Gascoyne stayed in Paris from October to December 1933, over his seventeenth birthday and immediately after he had left school (David Gascoyne, ‘A Note on Myself’, Journal 1936–7, 1980, p.109). He had already published some poems, and in Paris he actively pursued his precocious interest in Surrealism. He bought a copy of Ernst's collage book La Femme 100 têtes (1929) at the surrealist bookshop, the Librairie Corti in the rue de Clichy. Through the dealer Jeanne Bucher he visited Ernst in his studio in the rue des Plantes and bought from him a gouache entitled ‘Oiseau en forêt’.

In 1935 he published in London A Short Survey of Surrealism, the first such promotion of Surrealism in Britain. In this he reproduced Ernst's collage ‘Le Lion de Belfort’, 1934 and briefly described Ernst's technique: ‘Ernst goes further than the cubists and creates pictures entirely from pieces of other, ready-made, pictures by forgotten or anonymous artists’ (3rd ed. 1970, p.107). In a preceding passage (ibid., p.106) he made it clear that he believed it was the artist's imagination and not any technical skill that mattered:

The most scandalous thing about surrealist art, from the point of view of the reactionary critics, is its tendency to do away with the old hierarchies of technical skill, ‘fine drawing’, craftsmanship, etc. Surrealism represents the point at which poetry and painting merge one into the other; and if poetry should be made by all, not one, then everyone should be able to make pictures, also. What upset the critics most about Dada was that plastic works by all the Dadaist writers were shown at the Dada exhibitions; what would happen to the artist's prestige, they wondered (and of their own, reflected from it), if such a thing were to become more general? It would vanish; or the idea of what constitutes an artist would have to undergo a great change. All that is needed to produce a surrealist picture is an unshackled imagination (and the surrealists have often claimed that every human being is endowed with imagination, be he aware of it or not), and a few materials: paper or cardboard, pencil, scissors, paste, and an illustrated magazine, a catalogue or newspaper. The marvellous is within everyone's reach

In a letter to the compiler dated 25 April 1991 Gascoyne added that the phrase ‘poetry should be made by all’ (‘La poesie doit être faite par tous’) was a maxim often quoted by Breton from Poésies, 1870, by Isidore Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont.

In 1936 Herbert Read and Roland Penrose organised an exhibition British and continental surrealist art at the New Burlington Galleries. Gascoyne was a member of the organising committee, and contributed translations from French to the catalogue. In April he made ‘two or three’ collages, as he said in conversation on 18 April 1989, specifically in order to have something for the exhibition. The 1936 catalogue lists three collages, and that is probably all that he made. The other two were titled ‘The Annunciation’ and ‘A Critical Visit’, the latter being the title of a magazine story illustration of about 1890 that provided the basic background of the collage. Gascoyne wrote that he bought the material for these ‘from old bound sets of popular magazines of the 1880s and 1890s, most probably found in Farringdon Road, or the great open-air flea-market on a north-east London hillside, defunct since 1939–40, frequented by Roland Penrose, Humphrey Jennings, Paul Nash and others’, or perhaps ‘on an excursion in the mid-30s to the Portobello Market’ (letters to the compiler, 25 April and 5 September 1991). Although he particularly admired the fine engravings illustrating copies of educational natural history magazines, the main elements of ‘Perseus and Andromeda’ were taken from a similar but more commonplace book.

The artist has recalled that the collage grew ‘automatically’ from the various images he had selected and that, ‘At a certain point the title suddenly seemed obvious!’ (letter to the compiler, 5 September 1991) The title refers to a dramatic moment in the Greek myth about Perseus, a mortal son of Zeus, who claimed the head of the gorgon Medusa as a dowry gift for King Polydectis. This was his most daring feat, since the gorgon's head was so hideous that it petrified all living things. Returning with this terrible prize, Perseus flew around the coast of Philistia and spotted a naked girl chained to a cliff. This was Andromeda, who was to be sacrificed to a sea monster which had been sent, together with a flood, to punish her mother for boasting that she and her daughter were more beautiful that the Nereids. Perseus fell instantly in love with Andromeda and proposed to slay the monster on condition that she become his bride (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955, 3rd ed., 1960, I, pp.237–45). Michel Remy has appraised ‘Perseus and Andromeda’ as a perfect example of surrealist collage, in that the meaning implied by the title is denied by the picture. A disruption of narrative occurs, since the protagonists, Perseus, Andromeda and the monster, fail to convey the usual sense of meaningful interaction anticipated by the viewer (Remy 1994, pp.112, 114).

The artist believes he sold T05025 to Zwemmer's Bookshop and Gallery in Litchfield Street, London, some time during the 1940s. It is the only one of the three collages executed in 1936 known to have survived and was recognised by chance by Julian Andrews in a London bookshop.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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