NEW YORK - Roberto Sebastián Echaurren Matta left his native Chile in 1935 and, after a short time spent in Spain, moved to Paris. Once there, he began to work at the atelier of famed architect Le Corbusier. In 1936, at the urging of several friends, Matta showed his drawings to Surrealist poet André Breton who admired his talent as a draftsman and encouraged Matta to experiment in the Surrealist manner.


Roberto Matta, André Breton, Aube Breton, Gordon Onslow-Ford and Estéban Francès.

In the summer of 1938, while in the village of Trevignon in northwestern France with his friend Gordon Onslow-Ford, Matta made his first paintings. He began using his fingers and dragging paint across the surface, developing a style of painting which tried to visualize the vivid images of the subconscious mind and the depth of space.

The Surrealist movement, of which Matta was a member, was dedicated to making a liaison between the waking state and the world of dreams. Matta called these worlds he created on canvas Psychological Morphologies or Inscapes. The term Psychological Morphology describes an adventure into an alternative reality with its own space and time.

Matta’s Psychological Morphologies built on the techniques and precepts of older members of the Surrealist group including Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Ernst. One such technique was the practice of automatic drawing or painting, whereby a work is created through the unconscious movement of the pencil or brush, moving faster than the mind can think.

Matta’s way to enter the world of the Psychological Morphologies was through washes of paint, applied and then removed, which created a deep space unlike that of any of his contemporaries. Gordon Onslow Ford described Matta placing small quantities of bright colors next to each other along the blade of a palette knife and then making automatic lightening gestures on the canvas so that the colors were juxtaposed and mixed in unpredictable ways. The blank spaces of the canvas were then brushed spontaneously with other colors. This preliminary state of a canvas took place in a few minutes and remained his practice for creating a basis for his oil paintings for many years.


Matta’s Morphologie Psychologique, 1938-39. Estimate $2,500,000-3,500,000.

The next step in the painting process was to complete what had appeared after he had executed his preliminary brushwork. Little by little, through intuition, the drama implied in the preliminary state became clearer. Attention was given to one area, then another, followed by the careful use of lines, scraping and washes of color until, through this process, the painting was completed.

In 1939, Matta left Europe under the shadow of war and landed in New York. As one of the few artists from the Surrealist group who was conversant in English, Matta soon began friendships with local artists and began to communicate many of the precepts of Surrealism, in particular the theories of automatic painting, which became the touchstone for many action school painters and other members of what would become known as the School of New York.

This work will be on auction during our 28-29 May Latin American Art Modern & Contemporary Auction.