Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, ‘The Tiled Room’ 1935
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, The Tiled Room 1935 . Tate . © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

Room 5 in In the Studio

International Surrealism

Lobster Telephone

Salvador Dalí, Lobster Telephone  1936

In the early 1930s, Dalí promoted the idea of the Surrealist object, of which this is a classic example. The Surrealists valued the mysterious and provocative effect of such unexpected conjunctions. Dalí, in particular, believed that his objects could reveal the secret desires of the unconscious. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for him, and he drew a close analogy between food and sex. He made Lobster Telephone for Edward James, the British collector who was the most active patron of Surrealist artists in the 1930s.

Gallery label, July 2008

© Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2020

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The Three Dancers

Pablo Picasso, The Three Dancers  1925

With its emphasis on violence and sex, The Three Dancers was greatly admired by the surrealists. It started off as a realistic representation of ballet dancers rehearsing. While Picasso was working on it his old friend Ramon Pichot died. Twenty years earlier, Pichot and another friend, Carlos Casagemas, fell in love with the same woman, Germaine Gargallo. Casagemas took his own life, having first shot at Gargallo. Recalling these events transformed Picasso’s approach. The distorted angular figures, harsh colours and thickly worked paint surfaces seem to express violent emotions.

Gallery label, April 2019

© Succession Picasso/DACS 2020

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Autumnal Cannibalism

Salvador Dalí, Autumnal Cannibalism  1936

Two faceless figures are devouring each other. As their heads and bodies merge, they dig knives and spoons into each other’s flesh. The surrounding landscape is Empordà, in Catalonia, where Dalí was born. The mutually destructive embrace may be a comment on the Spanish Civil War, which began a few months before Autumnal Cannibalism was painted. The apple on the head of the male figure relates to the legend of William Tell, in which a father is forced to shoot at his son.

Gallery label, January 2019

© Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2020

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The Future of Statues

René Magritte, The Future of Statues  1937

This work is made from a plaster copy of the death mask of the French Emperor Napoleon. A death mask in the likeness of someone who has died, made by placing a mixture of plaster or wax on their face to create a mould. Magritte painted at least five of these casts, each with sky and clouds. Discussing the works, the artist’s friend the Surrealist poet Paul Nougé suggested an association between death, dreams and the depth of the sky. He commented: ‘a patch of sky traversed by clouds and dreams [can] transfigure the very face of death in a totally unexpected way’.

Gallery label, February 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Man with a Newspaper

René Magritte, Man with a Newspaper  1928

Magritte’s disconcertingly deadpan style is seen clearly in these four simply painted scenes, which seem to be indistinguishable apart from the disappearance of the man of the title. They were based on an illustration in a popular health manual. There are slight changes of perspective between the four panels, which add to the disquieting effect, and may relate to the displacement of images in early 3-D viewing devices. This subtle undermining of the everyday was characteristic of Magritte and his Belgian Surrealist colleagues, who preferred quiet subversion to overt public action.

Gallery label, October 2012

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Black Virtue

Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren), Black Virtue  1943

Matta joined the French surrealist group in 1937 before moving to New York two years later. His paintings appear abstract but are based on drawings of erotic and violent scenes. In the two side panels of this triptych the imagery has a mechanistic, science fiction quality. But in the centre the forms are organic, suggesting references to sexual parts. Matta was concerned with capturing the inner world of the mind. Black Virtue evokes a mental landscape in an extreme combination of eroticism and violence.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Some Roses and Their Phantoms

Dorothea Tanning, Some Roses and Their Phantoms  1952

In this painting Tanning questions our expectations of still life painting, transforming a domestic table-top scene. Tanning plays with perspective and introduces mysterious forms and an insect-like creature. She wrote: ‘Here some roses from a very different garden sit?, lie?, stand?, gasp?, dream?, die? – on white linen. They may serve you tea or coffee. As I saw them take shape on the canvas I was amazed by their solemn colours and their quiet mystery that called for – seemed to demand – some sort of phantoms.’

Gallery label, August 2019

© DACS, 2020

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Head of a Catalan Peasant

Joan Miró, Head of a Catalan Peasant  1925

Miró claimed that his paintings of the mid-1920s came to him ‘almost entirely from hallucination’. This image, however, was copied from a small preparatory drawing. A grid-like structure is faintly visible. Miró used it to help him enlarge his initial drawing. Miró was from Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain. The red form in this painting references the barretina hat. This symbol of Catalan identity suggests Miró’s support for Catalan nationalism. Other parts of the painting are more ambiguous. The circles have been read as both eyes and breasts. The wisps of hair below could suggest a beard or pubic hair.

Gallery label, August 2019

© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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The Autobiography of an Embryo

Eileen Agar, The Autobiography of an Embryo  1933–4

Agar saw reproduction, or ‘womb magic’, as an important component of the feminine imagination. In this work she evoked the development of an embryo. Each of the four sections mixes symbols of life and death, and images of marine plants and animals. Examples of so-called primitive and ancient arts allude to the beginning of culture. As these elements are embedded within the dense layers of the painting, they seem to suggest memories of collective experience that the embryo carries into the world.

Gallery label, August 2013

© The estate of Eileen Agar

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Peg-Top

Hans Bellmer, Peg-Top  c.1937–52

This image relates to a plan for a sculpture, which Bellmer never completed. The peg-top was intended to symbolise a woman turning the heads and hearts of men. Bellmer was interested in ideas of fetishism, drawing out sexual associations between inert objects and the body. His best-known works were a series of constructed dolls. Bellmer joined the French surrealist group in 1938, having left his native Germany to escape the Nazi regime.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Little Hermit Sphinx

Leonor Fini, Little Hermit Sphinx  1948

Fini adored cats, and used the image of the Sphinx (a mythological hybrid of a lion and woman) partly as a self-portrait. She regarded the Sphinx as a symbolic intermediary between the human and animal realms, and between the conscious and the uncharted areas of the mind and spirit. In this painting, the Sphinx appears as a child-like, domesticated creature, sitting in front of its ramshackle home. The bird skull at its feet and the organ hanging in the doorway, however, hint at acts of violence.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Louise Bourgeois, Fillette (Sweeter Version)  1968–99, cast 2001

The title of this phallic sculpture means ‘little girl’, an ironic disjunction of word and object. Bourgeois has talked about this work in relation to her experiences as a wife, and a mother to three boys, which led her to see masculinity as far more vulnerable than she had imagined. ‘From a sexual point of view I consider the masculine attributes to be extremely delicate’, she explained. ‘They’re objects that the woman, myself, must protect.’ The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe famously portrayed Bourgeois with a version of this work tucked playfully under her arm.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The Easton Foundation

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Ships in the Dark

Paul Klee, Ships in the Dark  1927

A series of interlocking triangles form the sails of a troupe of boats strung across the canvas in an undulating line that suggests a gently rocking, wave-like motion. This rhythmic composition recalls a diagram charted by Klee in the notes from his lectures at the Bauhaus, showing ‘an active line, limited in its movement by fixed points’. The nautical imagery also seems to draw upon Klee’s recent trip to the south of France and Corsica.

Gallery label, March 2014

© reserved

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Transference

Leonora Carrington, Transference  1963

© The estate of the artist, DACS, 2020

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Deification of a Soldier

Kikuji Yamashita, Deification of a Soldier  1967

The title of this work suggests that a soldier is being worshipped as if he were a god. However, the imagery is chaotic and violent. With screaming mouths, distorted animal forms and disembodied limbs it captures the absurdity of war. The painting was made at the height of the Vietnam War, when there were extensive protests about the United States’ military presence in Japan. It also looks back to Kikuji’s traumatic memories of the Second World War. As a conscript in the Imperial Japanese army, he witnessed many atrocities and took part in the killing of a Chinese prisoner.

Gallery label, January 2019

© reserved

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Azure Day

Yves Tanguy, Azure Day  1937

Tanguy joined the surrealist movement in 1925, the year after its foundation. Despite his lack of training, he began to paint and soon achieved an astonishing technical precision, depicting vast dream-like spaces. The foreground in Azure Day is occupied by grouped and piled forms that defy rational explanation. They have been associated with the ancient standing stones of Tanguy’s native Brittany.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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The Tiled Room

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, The Tiled Room  1935

The Tiled Room was a breakthrough work for Vieira da Silva. It shows what the critic Michel Seuphor described as the ‘absorption in space itself’ that was characteristic of her structured paintings in the 1940s and later. The compelling web of lines has been associated with the artist’s feverish imaginings when suffering from jaundice. Vieira da Silva was haunted by memories of her lonely childhood following the death of her father and her mother’s withdrawal into mourning. The deeper psychological charge in these spatial illusions seems to have derived from those personal experiences.

Gallery label, July 2015

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Ibaye

Wifredo Lam, Ibaye  1950

The Cuban artist Wifredo Lam trained in Havana before moving to Europe where, in 1939, he joined the Surrealist movement. When the Second World War broke out he returned to Cuba (crossing the Atlantic with André and Jacqueline Breton) and seized the opportunity to re-examine his cultural roots. His paintings were populated with spiritual figures in sacred jungle settings. He later recalled that Ibaye is a word used in Voodoo, probably the name of an important mystical figure. Lam created a new art for the New World from the combination of indigenous Caribbean and West African influences.

Gallery label, December 2005

© Tate

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Hour of the Traces

Alberto Giacometti, Hour of the Traces  1932

In 1933 Giacometti said that when making his sculptures he reproduced images that were ‘complete in my mind’s eye... without stopping to ask myself what they might mean’. This fragile construction suggests the mysteries of the unconscious, combining space and time, eroticism and death. The cage-like structure supports delicate organic forms. The upper shapes have been seen as skeletal or phallic, while the lower suspended form has been interpreted as a beating heart or a clock’s pendulum.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2020

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Composition

Henry Moore OM, CH, Composition  1932

Moore drew inspiration from many sources, including natural forms and ancient sculptures, as well as responding to the challenge of his contemporaries. Both suggestively organic and abstract, Composition is a striking example of his radical inventiveness, confirming how his work came to epitomise modern art in Britain in the 1930s. He argued that surrealism and abstraction were not incompatible, and wrote of the importance of the ‘nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind’ in his artistic process.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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A Thousand Times

Yves Tanguy, A Thousand Times  1933

Due to the precision of his technique, Tanguy worked very slowly. A Thousand Times is one of the more substantial canvases from a year in which he only completed about ten paintings. It was a period of poverty which forced him to give up his studio. The threatening atmosphere of the painting may reflect these personal circumstances, as well as the bleak economic and political climate of Europe in the early 1930s.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Portrait

Sir Roland Penrose, Portrait  1939

Penrose was a crucial figure in introducing surrealism to Britain. He developed a type of word-and-image portrait in which the poetic and painted elements are mutually enriching. The abstract forms suggest, rather than depict, the subject while the ornate frame exaggerates the unconventional quality. When submitted for the United Artists exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1940, Portrait was rejected because the organisers considered some words offensive (presumably ‘arse’). In its place, Penrose submitted a painting of a group of hands, which were later discovered to spell ‘SHIT’ in sign language.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Sir Roland Penrose

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Forms

Paule Vézelay, Forms  1936

Vézelay started drawing on canvas in the late 1920s, and discovered what she called ‘a special quality’ in drawing with charcoal. She was particularly interested in the various ways an illusion of space can be created on a two-dimensional surface. Discussing this work, she wrote: ‘spheres and circles are static, consequently they have a stabilizing power in composition... yet if they are changed and become spheroid they may lose their stability and become in some sense pliable... then they can be used to indicate directions or movements, in order to balance or counter-act the movements of other elements in the composition’.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The estate of Paule Vézelay

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Louise Bourgeois, KNIFE COUPLE  1949

This work was made as part of a series entitled Personages, totem-like wooden figures on a human scale that Bourgeois arranged in groups around the floor of the gallery. Around ten years after Bourgeois left France to live in New York, she associated these figures with the family members she left behind. She referred to them as ‘confrontation pieces’. Bourgeois often explored ambivalent psychological and emotional states in her work, and here the sharp forms seem to combine loving affection with the implicit threat of cutting and violence.

Gallery label, October 2016

© The Easton Foundation

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Arshile Gorky, Garden in Sochi Motif  1942

Gorky reconstructs his childhood memories of Armenia in this painting. The central shape, though difficult to decipher, was clearly an important personal symbol as he included it in several paintings. It has been interpreted in many different ways, as an Armenian butter-churn made of goatskin familiar from Gorky’s youth, for example, or a pair of red slippers his father gave him before the artist left for the United States.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Boris Anrep in his Studio, 65 Boulevard Arago

Pierre Roy, Boris Anrep in his Studio, 65 Boulevard Arago  1949

This is portraiture at one remove: a painting of an imagined carved likeness. In it Pierre Roy turns his friend and fellow-artist, the mosaicist Boris Anrep, to stone. Through a characteristic manipulation of perspective, Roy manages to convey a sense of monumentality to the bust, which appears to tower over the studio behind. Though the painted sculpture is solemn and restrained, Roy’s perspective creates an odd effect like a cinematic zoom in which an object is suddenly brought into dramatic focus.

Gallery label, October 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Curves and Circles

Paule Vézelay, Curves and Circles  1930

Vézelay was one of the first British artists to explore abstraction. Born Marjorie Watson-Williams, she changed her name after moving to Paris in the 1920s, perhaps to identify more closely with France. In Curves and Circles she brings together a series of abstract shapes, with elegant, twisting curves that seem to trace the movement of the artist’s hand. The background resembles a cloudy sky, as if the lines were floating in air.

Gallery label, January 2019

© The estate of Paule Vézelay

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Inspiration from the sea

Ramses Younan, Inspiration from the sea  1963

Younan was an artist, writer and political activist. In the late 1930s he co-founded the Egyptian surrealist group Art and Freedom. He believed in the revolutionary power of the imagination, and used the unconscious mind as a source for his art. Starting from an initial improvisation he would develop and refine the surface of his paintings to produce complex abstract compositions. Here forms seem to dissolve and merge into each other. The colours resemble those of an Egyptian landscape.

Gallery label, January 2019

© Estate of Ramses Younan

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Art in this room

Lobster Telephone
Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone 1936
The Three Dancers
Pablo Picasso The Three Dancers 1925
Autumnal Cannibalism
Salvador Dalí Autumnal Cannibalism 1936
The Future of Statues
René Magritte The Future of Statues 1937
Man with a Newspaper
René Magritte Man with a Newspaper 1928
Black Virtue
Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren) Black Virtue 1943

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