Surrealism

The prerogative of art to depict that which does not exist and to transgress the borders of reality was pushed to the extreme by the Surrealist artists. The relationship between dream and reality was reversed and the conscious act of creativity replaced with an automatic impulse of the unconscious.

Surrealism - Table of contents

Definition of Surrealism and characteristics of Surrealist art

The term Surrealism was derived from the French word sur, 'over', from which the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) formed the term surréaliste in 1917 in his desire to describe, as freely as possible, a literary and artistic movement of his time – a movement that went beyond the familiar boundaries of reality. The word Surrealism was thus used to describe art that does not operate within the logic of the laws of nature.
Surrealism is often simply explained as the depiction of the unreal, the dreamlike - but not the meaningless, for images and text have a deeper symbolism in surrealist images which is not always easy to decipher, but is, in many cases, possible. 
Because of its programmatic unpredictability, the question of what exactly constitutes Surrealism can also only be answered approximately: Surrealist paintings are always figurative, even if that which is depicted is not a representation of what actually exists. 
In Surrealism, landscape is not a conscious imitation of nature, but the reproduction of a dream image emerging from the unconscious. Portraiture is also not an image of the outer person, but rather of the being turned inside out. Although Surrealism has developed characteristics that can be used to determine the affiliation of a work or artist, the judgement of experts is not always clear-cut and there are blurred boundaries, especially as individual artists have often developed their own style.

The roots and history of Surrealism

At the beginning were the words: It was poets, not painters, who launched Surrealist art. The Surrealist movement was initially a literary one when, in 1924, the French poet André Breton (1896-1966) published his treatise Manifeste du surréalisme, his first Manifesto of Surrealism, in the eternal art capital of Paris. A trained psychologist, Breton referred in it to the The Interpretation of Dreams by the Austrian doctor and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), published in 1900, and to Symbolism, but Surrealism was also influenced by the ideas of the Dada movement. Breton was supported by his like-minded poet friends Louis Aragon (1897-1982) and Philippe Soupault (1897-1990).
Even though the Surrealist movement only began with Breton's manifesto, traces of surrealist painting can already be found in earlier artists - particularly in the famous Dutch Renaissance master Hieronymus Bosch (around 1450-1516), whose work appears surrealist in many respects. The painting The Nightmare (or The Alp) by the Swiss-English painter Johann Heinrich Fuseli (1741-1825) is regarded as groundbreaking for the Surrealist movement. However, the most important forerunner of surrealist painting was the Pittura metafisica that emerged in Italy with Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) as its main representative.

Important Surrealist artists

Although André Breton, a man of letters, is considered the first Surrealist, it was not texts but images that became the iconic artworks of Surrealist art. In fact, it was precisely this type of art that attracted artists who were particularly visually orientated.
Max Ernst (1891-1976) continued Breton's Surrealist manifesto in his 1934 essay What is Surrealism?, in which he emphasised the passive role of the artist, who should not hold the reins as the creator, but rather surrender himself to the guidance of the unconscious. Max Ernst also understood Surrealism as a form of rebellion: traditional norms of painting, especially Christian iconography, were alienated and blithely turned on their head, for example in the 1926 painting The Virgin Hides the Infant Jesus from Witnesses, which featured Ernst himself as well as Breton and the Surrealist poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952).
Like Max Ernst, Hans Arp (1886-1966) also left his choice of motifs to chance, while Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) relied on hallucinations and dreams and René Magritte (1898-1967) played with distortions and alienation of perspective. Joan Miró (1893-1983), on the other hand, was deeply impressed by the primitive cave paintings of his ancestors and used these as the starting point for his pictures.

In the 1950s, René Magritte was considered the most important representative of Surrealism alongside Dalí. Although the dazzling Salvador Dalí, celebrated as an extroverted magician, clearly contradicted René Magritte's bourgeois and modest lifestyle, both presented Surrealism with works of art of the highest calibre.
Surrealism is also credited with artists such as Man Ray (1890-1976) and Yves Tanguy (1900-1955), whose exhibitions in New York and other American cities helped the Surrealist movement achieve its breakthrough in the USA. As an emigrant, Yves Tanguy in particular helped to build a bridge between the old and the new world - in the Surrealist manner, of course.
Famous female Surrealist painters include the German-Swiss artist and lyricist Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985), the American sculptor, painter and writer Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) and the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). However, the categorisation of Frida Kahlo is at times subject to certain restrictions.
Even artists who are not or no longer called Surrealists in the strict sense were influenced by Surrealism, including the Danish graphic artist, ceramicist and writer Asger Jorn (1914-1973) and the French sculptor, painter and graphic artist André Masson (1896-1987), who left the Surrealists due to festering disputes within the group. If an artist lists Surrealism in his biography, it may have been just one phase that did not necessarily determine his identity. Painters who were close to Surrealism without belonging directly to the Surrealist circle included Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Paul Klee (1879-1940).

Over the years, Surrealism spawned art of the highest calibre and also left its mark beyond literature and painting. The Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th century, became famous at the beginning of his career with Surrealist silent films. Above all, however, Surrealism shaped images and their language, whether in pictorial or cinematic form, and to this day its works are primarily characterised as visual.
Even after the first generation of Surrealists had faded away, works of great significance were created in the spirit of Surrealism, and from 1945 onwards there was also talk of Neo-Surrealism, which included the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.
Surrealism is still important in the art scene. Museum Barberini, for example, made Surrealism the centrepiece of a sensational exhibition; with the evocative title Surrealism and Magic, it was on display from 22 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

Surrealist artworks at Lempertz

Probably the largest Surrealist painting in the world was created by Salvador Dalí and is actually a stage curtain. The artwork on offer at Lempertz in a Private Sale, entitled Mad Tristan, was created by the eccentric artist in New York in 1944 for a 'Paranoid Spectacle', and was extensively and expertly restored in 2009.
René Magritte is regularly represented at Lempertz auctions with attractive pieces, including the bronze sculpture Les Menottes de Cuivre, which is estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 euros.
Joan Miró, whose works embody a successful tradition at Lempertz, can almost be considered a regular fixture: the painting Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit, signed in black ink by the artist himself and from the collection of the art historian Will Grohmann (1887-1968), clearly exceeded the estimate of 70,000 to 90,000 euros to reach 161,200 euros.

Upcoming Auctions - Surrealism

Auction 1247 - Evening Sale - Contemporary Art

Tuesday 04. 06. 2024
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Munich
2 – 3 May

Berlin
23 May Vernissage
24 – 25 May

Brussels
23 – 28 April

Cologne
29 May – 3 June
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Auction 1247 - Evening Sale - Modern Art

Tuesday 04. 06. 2024
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Munich
2 – 3 May

Berlin
23 May Vernissage
24 – 25 May

Brussels
23 – 28 April

Cologne
29 May – 3 June
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Auction 1248 - Day Sale - Contemporary Art

Wednesday 05. 06. 2024
Auction
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Munich
2 – 3 May

Berlin
23 May Vernissage
24 – 25 May

Brussels
23 – 28 April

Cologne
29 May – 3 June
Catalogue

Auction 1248 - Day Sale - Modern Art

Wednesday 05. 06. 2024
Auction
Further information about this auction will be available soon.
Preview
Munich
2 – 3 May

Berlin
23 May Vernissage
24 – 25 May

Brussels
23 – 28 April

Cologne
29 May – 3 June
Catalogue

Auction - Contemporary Art Online

Monday 27. 05. 2024 - Friday 07. 06. 2024
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Our passed Surrealism Art-Auctions

Surrealism prices

A few examples of Surrealism prices auctioned in Lempertz auctions:

Surrealism Auction - Lot Nr. Object Price
SurrealismAuction 1177 - Lot 22Max Ernst - Mer agitée, soleil, nuage et maître Corbeau avec son fils
 
620.000 €
SurrealismAuction 1187 - Lot 41Max Ernst - Flaneurs (Les enfants de la Huchette)
 
312.500 €
SurrealismAuction 1143 - Lot 203Joan Miró - Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit
 
161.200 €
SurrealismAuction 1177 - Lot 44SALVADOR DALÍ Y DOMENECH - Tienta en Espana (Epreuve de corrida en Espagne)
 
143.750 €
SurrealismAuction 943 - Lot 41SALVADOR DALÍ Y DOMENECH - Nature morte au drapé blanc
 
126.000 €
SurrealismAuction 923 - Lot1Hans Arp - Relief concret D
 
96.000 €
SurrealismAuction 1203 - Lot 258Man Ray - Objet Indestructible (Metronom)
 
42.840 €
SurrealismAuction 1163 - Lot 344Marcel Duchamp - Prière de toucher - Le surréalisme en 1947
 
25.000 €
SurrealismAuction 847 - Lot 818René Magritte - L' Aube à l'Antipode
 
18.445 €
SurrealismAuction 979 - Lot 392René Magritte - Untitled (Poire)
 
18.150 €
SurrealismAuction 1071 - Lot 727Meret Oppenheim - Untitled (Reisegalerie)
 
6.448 €

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