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

Lobster Telephone is an unexpected combination of objects. Dalí believed bringing them together could reveal secret desires. For him, both lobsters and telephones were connected with sex. This work is a classic example of a surrealist object. The surrealists promoted the idea that art could reflect the mysteries of the unconscious mind.

Gallery label, August 2020

© 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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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

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Man with a Newspaper

René Magritte, Man with a Newspaper  1928

Magritte’s deadpan style is seen clearly in these four simply painted scenes. Each section seems to be exactly the same, apart from the disappearance of the man reading the newspaper. There are slight changes of perspective between the four panels. This can be seen by focusing on the view out of the windows. This shift adds to the slightly unsettling effect in the painting. It may relate to the displacement of images in early 3D viewing devices. This subtle undermining of the everyday was typical of Magritte and his Belgian surrealist colleagues. They preferred quiet subversion to obvious public action.

Gallery label, August 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Black Virtue

Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren), Black Virtue  1943

The distorted forms and shapes in this painting make it appear abstract. However, Matta based the image on drawings of erotic and violent scenes. In the two side panels the imagery has a science fiction quality. But in the centre the forms are organic, suggesting references to female sex organs. 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. Matta joined the French Surrealist group in 1937 before moving to New York two years later.

Gallery label, August 2020

© 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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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 is made by placing a mixture of plaster or wax over a person's face once they have died to create a mould. Magritte painted at least five of these casts, each with sky and clouds. 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, August 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Little Hermit Sphinx

Leonor Fini, Little Hermit Sphinx  1948

The scene in this painting is an unsettling one. It shows the open doorway of an overgrown building, with peeling paintwork. Hanging from the doorway is an internal organ – identified by Fini as a human lung. Sitting among leaves is the Sphinx (a mythological hybrid of a lion and woman). Fini adored cats and used the image of the Sphinx partly as a self-portrait. She regarded it as a symbolic mediator between the human and animal worlds. For her it also connected the conscious and the uncharted areas of the mind and spirit. Here the Sphinx appears as a child-like 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, August 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Azure Day

Yves Tanguy, Azure Day  1937

Colourful groups of forms and shapes occupy the foreground of this work. They deny any rational explanation. But they have been associated with the ancient standing stones of Tanguy’s native Brittany in France. Tanguy joined the surrealist movement in 1925, the year after its formation. As a surrealist artist, he was committed to exploring the unconscious mind. Tanguy often depicted vast dream-like spaces, like the one seen here in Azure Day.

Gallery label, August 2020

© 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 made this work as 'a celebration of life, not only a single one, but life in general.' Here she evokes the development of an embryo. Each of the four sections mixes symbols of life and death, and images of marine plants and animals. These images seem to suggest collective memories that the embryo carries into the world. This reflects the increasing focus on the unconscious in European art at the time. Agar saw this interest as establishing 'the dominance of a feminine type of imagination over the classical and more masculine order'.

Gallery label, August 2020

© The estate of Eileen Agar

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Peg-Top

Hans Bellmer, Peg-Top  c.1937–52

This image began as a plan for a sculpture, which Bellmer never completed. A ghost-like figure, painted in shades of grey and set against a dark smoky background, fills the centre of the canvas. Bellmer's interest in fetishism led him to draw out sexual associations between objects and the body. Here, Bellmer uses the peg-top to symbolise a woman turning the heads and hearts of men on her spinning top. This was an ongoing theme for Bellmer. He joined the French Surrealist group in 1938, having left his native Germany to escape the Nazi regime.

Gallery label, August 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 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 Handsome Pork-Butcher

Francis Picabia, The Handsome Pork-Butcher  c.1924–6, c.1929–35

The features of this pink-faced man were originally made up of collaged elements including string, measuring tape and curtain rings. Some years later, Picabia ripped these off, an action which also removed areas of paint, leaving patches of bare canvas visible. During the second phase of work, Picabia added combs for the hair, and painted in the head and hands of a woman. These dramatic alterations reflect Picabia’s humorous and irreverent approach to picture-making.

Gallery label, November 2005

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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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

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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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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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Forms

Paule Vézelay, Forms  1936

Vézelay started drawing on canvas in the late 1920s. She discovered what she called ‘a special quality’ in drawing with charcoal. Focusing on form, she explored various ways of creating an illusion of space on a flat, two-dimensional surface. She was particularly interested in the spheres and circles. She wrote that '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, August 2020

© The estate of Paule Vézelay

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A Thousand Times

Yves Tanguy, A Thousand Times  1933

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

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Portrait

Sir Roland Penrose, Portrait  1939

Penrose was crucial in introducing Surrealism to Britain. He developed a type of word-and-image painting, like the one seen here. The poetic and painted elements relate to each other and have equal importance. Its title, Portrait, suggests it refers to an individual. The only recognisable details, however, are the man's hair at the top and what may be a cross around his neck. Penrose's abstract forms suggest, rather than depict, the subject. Portrait was rejected from an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1940 for the use of an offensive word (‘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, August 2020

© The estate of Sir Roland Penrose

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Composition

Henry Moore OM, CH, Composition  1932

Moore drew inspiration from many sources, including natural forms and ancient sculptures. He also responded to the work of other artists working at the time. This sculpture is both organic and abstract. But its form and structure also link it to traditional portrait busts. This reflects Moore’s belief that ‘all the best sculpture I know is both abstract and representational at the same time’. Composition is an example of his radical inventiveness. Moore argued that surrealism and abstraction were not in conflict. He wrote of the importance of the ‘nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind’ in his artistic process.

Gallery label, August 2020

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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Louise Bourgeois, KNIFE COUPLE  1949

These wooden figures are made on a human scale. Bourgeois made them as part of a series of around eighty works, entitled Personages. She displayed them by arranging them in groups around the floor of the gallery. She associated these figures with the family members she left behind after moving from France to New York. She referred to them as ‘confrontation pieces’. Bourgeois often explored ambivalent and emotional states in her work. Here the sharp forms seem to combine loving affection with the implicit threat of cutting and violence.

Gallery label, August 2020

© The Easton Foundation

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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 a painting of an imagined sculpture head. Here, Roy turns his friend and fellow-artist Boris Anrep, to stone. Roy uses his usual style of manipulation of perspective to create a sense of great scale. The bust appears to tower over the studio. Though the painted sculpture is solemn and restrained, Roy’s perspective creates an odd effect. The size of the bust creates the feeling of a cinematic zoom, in which an object is suddenly brought into dramatic focus.

Gallery label, August 2020

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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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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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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Arshile Gorky, Garden in Sochi Motif  1942

Gorky reconstructs his childhood memories of Armenia in this painting. The central shape, though difficult to explain, was an important symbol for Gorky. It appears in several of his paintings. It has been read as different items from his native Armenia. Some scholars have interpreted it as an Armenian butter-churn made of goatskin, familiar from Gorky’s youth. Others suggest it is a pair of red slippers his father gave him before he left for the United States.

Gallery label, August 2020

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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
Ships in the Dark
Paul Klee Ships in the Dark 1927
Man with a Newspaper
René Magritte Man with a Newspaper 1928
Black Virtue
Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren) Black Virtue 1943

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