Yves Tanguy

A Thousand Times


Yves Tanguy 1900–1955
Original title
Mille Fois
Oil paint on canvas
Unconfirmed: 635 × 510 mm
Bequeathed by Eugene and Penelope Rosenberg 2015


Yves Tanguy’s A Thousand Times (Mille Fois) 1933 shows a characteristic array of illusionistic forms occupying the deep fictive space of the canvas. The general colouring of this landscape ranges through purple and pink, counteracting the sense of naturalism, or perhaps lending it a portentous atmosphere. The composition is divided roughly in half horizontally, with the top half featuring a lighter coloured sky above a darker, murkier landscape. The horizontal bands of colour create depth without defining distance. Preceding works had featured clearly defined horizons, but here the ‘landscape’ blends into a pearly sky, also banded and adorned with smaller suspended forms. This moment marked Tanguy’s first exploration of this seamlessness (to which he returned in later periods), which managed to achieve a convincing spatial illusion while remaining perplexingly indecipherable. Within this space, the pebble-like forms typical of Tanguy’s mature work are, according to the art historian Patrick Waldberg, disposed across ‘the visual field as if on a chess board’ (Waldberg 1977, p.153). They are unusually pressed to the extremities of the lower margin, with large claret and blue forms occupying the lower left corner, while smaller grey and claret forms occupy the lower right (where Tanguy’s minute signature teeters on the edge of the canvas). Given the hard surface that Tanguy achieved, it would appear that the painting has always had the subtly rhomboidal shape that, eventually, breaks the illusion and announces it as an object.

As a young man Tanguy had been inspired to take up painting by catching sight of Giorgio de Chirico’s The Child’s Brain 1914 (Moderna Museet, Stockholm) in the window of the Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris in 1923. That painting’s undertones of sinister patriarchy and Freudian symbolism infused Tanguy’s own paintings of the 1920s. They provided his introduction into surrealism, and when he eventually encountered the core group around André Breton in 1925 he discovered that the poet was the owner of the de Chirico painting he had admired two years earlier. The arrival of René Magritte in Paris and the emergence of Salvador Dalí in 1929 marked a shift towards this illusionistic surrealism of which Tanguy was a key, though less demonstrative, exponent. He refined his technique, which became reminiscent of nineteenth-century classicism, and allowed the disconcerting atmosphere of his paintings – infused with the experience of his visit to North Africa in 1930 – to become more of a feature.

Due to the precision of his technique, Tanguy worked slowly and usually on a domestic scale. A Thousand Times is one of the more substantial canvases from a year in which he only completed about ten paintings. In order to support himself, Tanguy took on projects to illustrate books of poetry, but it was a period of crushing poverty which even led to him having to give up his studio (see Le Bihan, Mabin and Sawin 2001, p.244). The threatening atmosphere of the painting may reflect these personal circumstances, as well as the widespread economic crisis in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the atmosphere of political crisis following Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship in Germany at the end of January 1933.

Further reading
Pierre Matisse, Yves Tanguy, New York 1963, reproduced p.83, no.133.
Patrick Waldberg, Yves Tanguy, Brussels 1977, p.153, reproduced p.155.
René Le Bihan, Renée Mabin and Martica Sawin, Yves Tanguy, Quimper 2001, p.244.

Matthew Gale
February 2015

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  1. Tanguy's fantasy landscape is made of shapes and forms that have no basis in reality. Its threatening atmosphere may reflect Tanguy's personal situation at the time. He had to give up his studio because he could no longer afford it. But the painting may also reflect the bleak economic and political climate of Europe in the 1930s, in the years leading up to the Second World War. Due to the precision of his technique, Tanguy worked very slowly. A Thousand Times is one of the largest canvases he made in a year when he created only ten paintings altogether.

Gallery label, August 2020

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