We’ve said more than once over the last few weeks how surreal the world we are currently living in feels, and how our reality has taken on new dimensions that we have little control over. This led us to thinking about what surreal means, and what links the art movement Surrealism might have with today’s global conscience. The word ‘surreal’, meaning ‘beyond reality’, was coined by the French writer Guillaume Apollinaire in a play performed in 1917. It wasn’t until 1924 when André Breton wrote his Surrealist Manifesto that the term surrealism was fully defined as ‘pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought’. In other words, the unlocking of ideas and images from the subconscious and its rejection of a rational view of life. Surrealism began as a literary movement and at its purist is found in the poetry of Breton, Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard who were influenced by the theories and dream studies of Sigmund Freud. The intellectual and philosophical tenets of Surrealism are closely aligned with Dada and its whimsy, nonsense and artistic freedom. The visual artists who first worked with Surrealist ideas and imagery were Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Man Ray. André Masson, René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta were all aligned with the Surrealist movement during the interwar years. The onset of WWII brought the dissolution of the Surrealist movement in Paris. Many artists moved to New York where their work was shown at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery Art of This Century, and at the Julien Levy Gallery. Their influence in New York would act as a bridge for the development of Abstract Expressionism and other movements that developed in New York in the post-war period.
There were many offshoots and smaller groups that worked in a Surrealist style, or grew out of Surrealist ideology. One of these groups was the Halmstad Group which loosely formed in Halmstad, Denmark around 1929. Members of the group included Sven Johnson, Waldemar Lorentzon, brothers Axel and Erik Olson, and Esaias Thoren. Jonson and Thoren had lived together in Paris in 1926, where they came in contact with the creative explosion happening on the continent. Under this influence, the Halmstad Group worked in a Cubist style but were also influence by the post-Cubist movements, namely Purism and Concretism. In the mid-1930s, the Halmstad Group moved towards Surrealism, though several of them, including Esaias Thoren, would revisit post-Cubism later in their careers.
We are pleased to be offering a group of paintings and works on paper by the Halmstad Group in our next 20th Century, Modern & Contemporary Fine Art sale, along with several other Surrealist works by Scandinavian artists and two Surrealist paintings by English artist/zoologist, Desmond Morris.