Lot 53
  • 53

Wolfgang Paalen

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
269,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Wolfgang Paalen
  • Orages magnétiques
  • signed WP, titled, dated 38 and dedicated à André Breton avec toute mon amitié on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


André Breton, Paris (a gift from the artist)

Estate of André Breton (sold: Calmels Cohen, Paris, André Breton - 42, rue Fontaine, 14th April 2003, lot 4031)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Paris, Galerie Renou et Colle, Wolfgang Paalen, 1938, no. 10

Saarbrücken, Mission Diplomatique Française, Peinture surréaliste en Europe, 1952, no. 74

Paris, L'Œil, Galerie d'Art, Minotaure, 1962, no. 44

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, André Breton. La beauté convulsive, 1991, illustrated in the catalogue

Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wolfgang Paalen, Zwischen Surrealismus und Abstraktion, 1993, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, La Révolution surréaliste, 2002, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Surrealismus, 1914-1944, 2002, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Barcelona, Centre de Cultura Contemporania & Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes, París i els surrealistes, 2005, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Instituto Oscar Domínguez de Arte y Cultura Contemporánea, Exodo hacia el sur: Oscar Domínguez y el automatismo absoluto (1939-1942), 2006, no. 27, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Saint-Louis, Espace d’Art Contemporain Fernet-Branca, Chassé-Croisé Dada Surréaliste 1916-1969, 2011, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Paris, Maison de Victor Hugo, La Cime du rêve. Les surréalistes et Victor Hugo, 2013-14, no. 230, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Minotaure, vol. III, no. 11, May 1938, illustrated n.p.

Gustav Regler, Wolfgang Paalen, New York, 1946, illustrated p. 30

René Passeron, Histoire de la peinture surréaliste, Paris, 1968, no. 137, illustrated p. 242 (titled Composition)

José Pierre, Wolfgang Paalen, Paris, 1980, illustrated in colour pp. 16-17 (as dating from 1936)

Andreas Neufert, Wolfgang Paalen. Im Inneren des Wals: Monografie, Schriften, Œuvrekatalog, Vienna & New York, 1999, no. 38.08, illustrated pp. 133 & 301

Amy Winter, Wolfgang Paalen: Artist and Theorist of the Avant-Garde, Westport & London, 2002, fig. 22, illustrated in colour

Georges Sebbag, Memorablilia: Constellations inaperçues, Dada & Surréalisme 1916-1970, Paris, 2010, illustrated in colour p. 240

Andreas Neufert, Auf Liebe und Tod, Das Leben des Surrealisten Wolfgang Paalen, Berlin, 2015, mentioned pp. 323-324

Catalogue Note

Dating from 1938, Orages magnétiques was painted during the height of Wolfgang Paalen’s involvement with the Surrealist movement. It was executed shortly following the great International Surrealist Exhibition organised by André Breton in London, and the Exposition internationale du Surréalisme at Galerie Beaux-Arts in Paris. The present work was created by using ‘fumage’, a technique invented by Paalen in 1936 by utilising the smoke of a candle to create automatist shapes. This technique was achieved by passing a lit candle across the surface of a canvas where the smoke and soot of the flaming candle formed patterns which the artists enhanced through further brush-work and the design suggested by the remnants caused by the flame. Fumage was seen as an evocation of a picture from the burns and smoke trails left by ‘drawing’ with a burning candle, a process that was later adopted by Salvador Dalí, akin in its automatist nature to frottage and grattage.


Breton discussed Paalen’s fumage works: ‘In Paalen’s fumages, the trail of colored inks on a white paper, submitted to rapid rotational movements and oscillations by other mechanical means to disperse the colors like blowing on them from various points, liberated brilliant essences with all the fire of hummingbirds and textures as intricate as their nests’ (A. Breton, Des tendences les plus récentes de la peinture surréaliste, 1939, p. 16). Indeed, Paalen’s new technique emphasised the spontaneity and immediacy of the painting process, or the signs of the artist’s subconscious creation, a belief held not only by the surrealists but also the first generation Abstract Expressionists. In addition to Paalen’s contribution to the Surrealist movement, he is largely accredited as the main inspiration for the Abstract Expressionists. In the words of Fritz Bultman, a first generation Abstract Expressionist and friend of Jackson Pollock, ‘it was Wolfgang Paalen who started it all’ (quoted in Amy Winter, Wolfgang Paalen – Philosopher of the Possible (exhibition catalogue), Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco, 2013, p. 9). The influence of Paalen’s fumage paintings can also be seen in Yves Klein’s fire paintings where Klein attempts to capture traces of a flame from an industrial blowtorch.

Orages magnétiques has exceptionally important provenance. The first owner of the work was the founder of the surrealist movement, André Breton, as attested by the dedication on the reverse of the canvas: à André Breton avec toute mon amitié. The work remained in Breton’s collection until his death in 1966, and subsequently in his estate, until it was sold at the landmark auction André Breton - 42, rue Fontaine, held in Paris in April 2003. Paalen painted approximately 350 works during his career; his production was modest compared to the majority of his peers and Orages magnétiques is arguably one of the greatest examples of fumage within the artist’s limited œuvre.