Lot 47
  • 47

André Masson

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • André Masson
  • Hôtel des automates
  • signed André Masson (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 71 by 92cm.
  • 28 by 36 1/4 in.


Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

Saidenberg Gallery, New York

Stanley Mateus, New York

Mr & Mrs Ira Haupt, New York (acquired by 1961. Sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 20th Century Paintings from the Ira Haupt Collection, 13th January 1965, lot 12)

Daniel C. Mattis, New York (purchased at the above sale)

Sale: Christie's, New York, 3rd November 1981, lot 54

Private Collection, Europe (sold: Christie's, London, 30th June 1999, lot 513)

Jean-Claude Binoche, Paris (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 5th May 2010, lot 21)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), André Masson, 1942, no. 8

New York, Saidenberg Gallery, André Masson - Retrospective Exhibition, 1961, no. 16 (as dating from 1942)

New York, Blue Moon Gallery & Lerner-Heller Gallery, André Masson, 1972, no. 15

New York, Blue Moon & Lerner-Heller Gallery, André Masson: Second Surrealist Period, 1975, no. 16, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Boise, Idaho, The Boise Gallery of Art & Salt Lake City, Art Center, Through the Open Door: A View of Surrealism and Beyond, 1980-81, no. 8

St. Petersburg, Florida, Salvador Dalí Museum, André Masson: the 1930s, 1999-2000, no. 47, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Darmstadt, Institut Mathildenhöhe, André Masson - Bilder aus dem Labyrinth der Seele / Vues du labyrinth de l'âme, 2003, no. 45, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, André Masson, 2004, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Wilhelm Hack-Museum, Gegen jede Vernunft Surrealismus Paris - Prag, 2009-10, no. 104, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)


André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la peinture, Paris, 1945 & 1965, illustrated p. 64

Jean-Paul Clébert, Mythologie d'André Masson, Geneva, 1971, no. 130, illustrated (incorrectly titled Hôtel des Aromates)

Bernard Noël, André Masson. La chair du regard, Paris, 1993, illustrated in colour p. 111

Guite Masson, Martin Masson & Catherine Lœwer, André Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Vaumarcus, 2010, vol. II, no. 1939/1941*3, illustrated in colour p. 405

Catalogue Note

Complex in its composition and bewilderingly turbulent in its subject-matter, Hôtel d’automates belongs to what is arguably the most tumultuous period in Masson’s personal and artistic life. During the course of 1939 the artist grew increasingly exasperated with the political situation in Europe, and in the autumn of that year saw several of his friends, including Michel Leiris and André Breton, go off to war. With the help of his friends and fellow artists Kurt Seligmann and Kay Sage, Masson applied for a visa to move to the United States. In the autumn of 1940 the artist and his family left their home and moved to the Château de Montredon near Marseilles while waiting for the visas to be issued. The Château belonged to Countess Lily Pastré, who had set out to help intellectuals during the war, provided accommodation to a number of artists and musicians and organised concerts in protest against the occupation of France. During his time in Marseille Masson was joined by several Surrealists, including Breton, Brauner, Ernst and Domínguez, who stayed at the Villa Air-Bel, which housed the American Emergency Committee (fig. 1).

In January 1941 Masson wrote to his supporter, the American collector Saidie May: ‘Our trip to America is now a reality for us and we are very happy to be coming overseas and to do an exhibition of my latest works and also to be working again’ (quoted in Camille Morando, André Masson. Biography, 1896-1941, Vaumarcus, 2010, p. 211). In March 1941 Masson, his wife Rose and their two children finally left Marseille for Martinique, where they briefly joined Breton and his family; soon they all reached New York and Masson eventually settled in Connecticut, where his neighbours were Alexander Calder and Arshile Gorky. He would stay in America until the end of the war, and returned to France in October 1945.

Hôtel d’automates is one of several oils that Masson had painted in France and brought with him to the United States, where he finished or simply signed them, and which were included in his exhibition held at Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery in New York in February-March 1942 (fig. 2). It is a remarkable example of Masson’s second Surrealist period; after a fall-out with Breton in 1929, the two artists renewed their artistic and personal bond in the late 1930s, their friendship and artistic collaboration strengthened in the face of political adversity threatening Europe. Masson’s Surrealist style blossomed during this turbulent time and Hôtel d’automates is emblematic of the disquiet and anxiety that characterised his art at this period, which ended with a second, final rupture with Breton in 1943.

The present work is a powerful evocation of a disintegrating civilisation and the loss of innocence so dramatically represented by the distorted shapes and disorienting movements of the human body. This sentiment is echoed in several celebrated images created by Max Ernst during this time (fig. 3), reflecting the shared artistic and political affinities between the two Surrealists. In Hôtel d’automates the composition is divided into several compartments, understood to be rooms of the hotel indicated by the work’s title; this partitioning of the image is also found in Max Ernst’s paintings from this period. The rooms are populated with ‘automatons’ – part human, part machine-like creatures – engaged in activities that are not entirely interpretable yet are strongly suggestive of both violence and sex, a key paradigm of Surrealism. Breton wrote in 1939: ‘Eroticism, in Masson’s work, must be regarded as a cornerstone. […] With it, beyond the feats of the jugglers and the exploits of the thief, we come upon the myth truly being constructed in this era. In his person we fully reconcile the authentic artist with the revolutionary’ (A. Breton, quoted in C. Morando, André Masson. Biography, 1896-1941, Vaumarcus, 2010, p. 193).