Drawing by Man Ray entitled Le Pont Brisé (Pont D'avignon).
Impressionist & Modern Art

Three of a Kind: Surrealist Works

Sotheby's upcoming sale, French Cancan by Natalie Seroussi on 20 October , features a remarkable collection of works by some of the best known painters of the 20th Century. We've selected three Surrealist works from the sale to look at more closely.

1. Salvador Dalí, 1904 – 1989, La Femme Visible, La Chasse Aux Papillons. Executed in 1930. Estimate €400,000–600,000.

Following the principles of his paranoiac-critical method, Dali went beyond the automatist processes of the Surrealists and turned the surface of this large work into a blank screen for the projection of the sexual and death impulses at work in his unconscious. The violent, irrational and sexual nature of the subject shocks and disrupts the viewer’s powers of interpretation. The title of the work refers to the dichotomies that Dali exploited between the visible and the invisible, simulacra and reality, in order to capture these double images that emerge from his paranoiac vision and deliberately upset the spectator.

La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons is a very accomplished example of this now famous method which announces the pictorial language and vocabulary that Dali would bring to fruition in his surrealist masterpieces of the 1930s. Veritable tribute to a decisive era both in Dali’s work and his personal life, it is fitting that La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons is dedicated to Paul Eluard while the book of La Femme visible is dedicated to Gala.

2. André Masson, 1896–1987. Le Couple. Executed in 1940-41. Estimate €400,000–600,000.

In October 1940, following the enactment of the racist law on the "premier statut des Juifs" by the Vichy government, André Masson, his wife Rose (of Jewish origin) and their two sons travelled to Marseille intent on leaving for America. The present work was painted in this context, and seems to depict the painter’s family on the point of departing the European continent.

Whilst waiting for their visa for the United States, the family lived in a house in Montredon, in the suburbs of Marseille. The papers finally arrived in March of 1941 and all three set sail for the new continent. As a sign of his particular attachment to this painting, André Masson took it with him on exile to the United States where he would later sign it. An example of the convulsive representation of our universe, as it was understood by the Surrealists, Le Couple is one of the most remarkable examples of Masson’s mythical series of “Métamorphoses”.

3. Man Ray, 1890–1976, Le Pont Brisé (Pont D'avignon). Executed In 1936. Estimate €100,000–150,000

Man Ray visited and admired the infamous Pont d’Avignon – the subject of a French song, popular since the 16th century – on several occasions and was inspired by its history and the fables that surrounded it. Man Ray draws a faithful rendering of the bridge in a state of ruin. As an homage to René Char who lived at L’Isle-sur-Sorgue, and to whom Paul Eluard and Man Ray payed a visit in July 1936, Man Ray combined, in the present work, a representation of the Pont d’Avignon with buildings taken from l’Isle-sur-Sorgue that can be see on the right of the composition.

Man Ray adds sensuality by placing a nude lying on top of the bridge, her body draped with one leg bent and the other suggesting that one could traverse the bridge by way of her out-stretched leg. With closed eyes, in a state of dream, a reflection of her arm and her head with long hair can be seen in the sky, inspiring the viewer’s imagination. The text at the bottom is Paul Eluard’s sensual poem dedicated to the Surrealist poet René Char.

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