André Masson

Star, Winged Being, Fish


Not on display

André Masson 1896–1987
Original title
L'Etoile, être ailé, poisson
Oil, sand and glue on canvas
Support: 551 × 380 mm
frame: 727 × 555 × 30 mm
Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994


Masson wrote excitedly to his friend and art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler about some new sand paintings he had just begun on 15 July 1955:

I am throwing sandy glue [‘colle ensablé’] onto stretched canvases. I like the result of this research, of this extreme spontaneity ... if in the past I threw sand onto glued surfaces, now it’s the glue that I throw onto the support, having only rhythm and the fire of inspiration as my starting point ... it’s always the same thing that I want, that is, to reveal movement, the blossoming, or the birth of things (this time it’s the act of creation in a pure state).’ (Quoted in Donation Louise and Michel Leiris, 1984, p.144.)

Masson had made similar sand paintings in the mid-1920s, a period when he pioneered within the surrealist group the practice of drawing automatically or without conscious control. He made a small number of important sand paintings again in the late 1930s. However, as he wrote in his letter to Kahnweiler, when he returned to this technique in the mid-1950s it was no longer a question of throwing sand onto a glued canvas laid out on the floor but of throwing an admixture of glue and sand onto a canvas in order to create lines or the raised ‘islands’ of sand.

In Star, Winged Being, Fish Masson painted or sprayed adhesive to the canvas, which he had probably stretched and primed himself. He applied a layer of sand, threw or dribbled on a mixture of sandy glue, and then painted a loose network of lines using the sandy glue mixed with red, blue or yellow paint, possibly squeezed or dribbled from drinking straws or plastic bottles. The area of orange was the result of applying a red sand-paint mixture to an area of yellow sand-paint, while the violet signature was made by mixing red and blue pigment with sand.

Masson said that his earliest sand paintings were inspired by the action of waves on a beach and the undulating motifs created in the sand. Within a network of indeterminate lines, his early sand works typically alluded to human figures and natural motifs such as stars and, above all, fish. Such allusions were repeated in later sand paintings of the mid-1950s.

Further reading
Agnès de La Baumelle, ‘André Masson’, in Donation Louise et Michel Leiris: Collection Kahnweiler-Leiris, exhibition catalogue, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris 1984, pp.132-146
Dawn Ades, André Masson, translated by Jacques Tranier, Paris 1994
Jennifer Mundy, ‘André Masson’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, p.80, reproduced p.81 in colour

Jennifer Mundy
December 2003
Revised by Giorgia Bottinelli
June 2004

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Display caption

Masson began to make sand paintings in the mid-1920s as a form of automatic composition. By pouring sand onto a surface ribboned with glue, he allowed unplanned elements into his work. When he returned to the technique for later works such as Star, Winged Being, Fish, Masson threw a mixture of glue and sand onto the canvas. The effect was much denser, creating lines and raised islands of sand. In these areas, Masson found elements created by chance that he then enhanced in paint in order to draw out the latent image.

Gallery label, July 2008

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