10 Famous Surrealist Paintings From The Masters of Surrealism

Artwork(s) In Focus, Top Lists, Art History

October 22, 2016

Surreal Art is much broader term than the cultural and artistic movement that began in 1920s in artist circles in Paris. Developed from Dada and Avant-garde, with the roots in theory of psychoanalysis, Surrealism soon spread from literature and visual arts to music, photography and film to culture practices, as well as to philosophy, politic work and social theories worldwide. The main topic explored by surrealist artists and writers was the dialogue between dreams and reality, trying to depict affluence of human mind with the emphasis on its subconscious images. Here, we will present the collection of 10 surrealist paintings in chronological order to show the uprising of the movement and the most prominent surrealist painters - Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington.

Featured images: Leonora Carrington - Ulus Pants, 1952; Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory, 1931, detail; Yves Tanguy - Mama Papa is Wounded, 1927, detail; Joan Miro - The Tilled Field, 1924, detail.

The Tilled Field - Joan Miro

The Tilled Field is the first of the Joan Miró’s surrealist paintings, after his period of Fauvism. As one of the most important surrealist painters, Miro's vision and vivid colorful imagination unite Catalan landscapes with its history and at the same time reflects the current politic situation in Spain during 1920s. The mind of a spectator is overwhelmed with a strong symbolic language that subversively represents a continuity of free spirit ideals of present and past in order to confront the strong dictatorship of Spanish government that neglects the Catalan long lasting autonomous thought and local complexity and beauty.

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Featured image: Joan Miró - The Tilled Field, 1924 via wikiart

Battle of Fishes - Andre Masson

As French surrealist painter and one of the practitioners of automatic writing, André Masson was experimenting with the painting media within the Battle of Fishes. In this example of Surrealism painting, the strong allegoric view on the human condition, constant conflicts and World War I destruction around Europe is depicted by imagery of surreal underwater landscape where sharp–toothed fish sadistically attack each other. Andre Masson used a rather unusual artistic method in this Surrealism artwork - he tossed the sand onto canvas, and also aggressively sketched and painted directly from the tube. This striking approach to painting influenced the abstract art and Informel.

Featured image: André Masson - Battle of Fishes, 1926 via pragueavantgarde.blogspot

Mama Papa is Wounded - Yves Tanguy

The surreal landscape of the Yves Tanguy masterpiece Mama, Papa is Wounded is mainly influenced by the Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and its language of symbols. In postwar Europe, along with fellow Surrealist André Breton, Tanguy had conducted the research work on the psychiatric cases of war veterans and transposed their statements into the modern abstract artwork. In this case, the name of this surreal painting is like children’s cry and resembles broken family relations as well as strong sexual connotation of wounded masculinity of the Father, but the real meaning of the abstract and archetypal symbols has been never revealed by the artist and stayed enigmatic.

Featured image: Yves Tanguy - Mama, Papa is Wounded, 1927 via ayay.co.uk

The Great Masturbator - Salvador Dali

The Great Masturbator is one of the earliest Salvador Dalí's surrealist paintings from the period he was fascinated by Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and obsessed by analyzing unconscious aspects of self as well as sexual repressed mechanism and ego structure. Therefore, painting The Great Masturbator is kind of a self-portrait, view on Dali's overgrown ego and its transformations, posed in dreamlike surreal landscape along with various objects of desire – beloved Gala or desert oasis but also accompanied by paranoid fears of unknown faceless figures and insects.

Featured image: Salvador Dali - The Great Masturbator, 1929 via sartle.com

The Persistence of Memory - Salvador Dali

The iconic view on melting watches is the central motif of the most famous Dalí painting – The Persistence of Memory, which is widely recognized and still actual in modern pop culture. Somewhere in the abstract surreal dreamworld of desires based on Catalan landscape and profound meditation on the theme of the space-time continuum, the self-portrait with the large nose from The Great Masturbator from 1929 is present as self-referencing figure. This painting was of great importance for Surrealism movement and for the artist himself, since Dalí has returned to the theme in various media, style and variations - The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, Persistence of Memory, the Nobility of Time, the Profile of Time and the Three Dancing Watches.

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Featured image: Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory, 1931 via art9b.wikispaces.com

Egg in the Church or the Snake - Andre Breton

The figure of André Breton is undoubtedly of great importance for the original Surrealism movement as he wrote the manifesto and actively contributed both to the scene and surrealist theory through his writings, publications and polemics with Georges Bataille. Although the artwork Egg in the Church or the Snake is not a painting but a collage, it is on the list of Surrealist paintings because of the concept of questioning the role of the author, expanding the media and pioneering use of photo-montage in order to make a visual experiment. These aspects altogether with its strong cryptic and dream-like, surreal symbolic language deal with the topic of repression of sexual desire under Christian religion.

Featured image: André Breton - Egg in the Church or the Snake, 1932 via weheartit.com

The Barbarians - Max Ernst

Prior to his affiliation to surrealism, Max Ernst was an influential Dada artist and very important artist of the Surreal art. Under the strong influence of both André Breton's surrealist artworks and writings and Sigmund Freud's theory of unconscious, Ernst within the painting The Barbarians explores own childhood memories, subconscious mind as well as primitive pagan mythological and sexual symbols. His concept of barbarians as creatures of surreal landscape is meditation on the theme of forms and forces of life, where there are under-life and super-life species - direct analogies of freudian concept of the ego, super-ego and id, as parts of human personality.

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Featured image: Max Ernst - The Barbarians, 1937 via max-ernst.com

The Treachery of Images - Rene Magritte

Postwar explorations in surrealism were strongly influenced by structuralist language theories and the concept of the gap between language and meaning. The Treachery of Images is depicting simple imagery of the pipe and contrasting statement "This is not a pipe", so it displays thesis of the difference between signifier and signified object to the spectator. Particularly this René Magritte painting was the introduction to Pop art and inspired its development. Relation between Magritte and contemporary art was further examined trough the homonymous publication of Michel Foucault and also shown within the exhibition Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images in 2006-2007 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Featured image: René Magritte - The Treachery of Images,1948 via wikiart

Ulu's Pants - Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was important multidisciplinary woman artist within the surrealist movement, active and recognized by its founders, especially between 1937 and 1947. Her roles of a writer, painter, sculptor, weaver and a mother affected her body of work. In her painting Ulu’s Pants, she explored Celtic mythology as well as Mexican cultural tradition to create a hybrid and monstrous characters, shape-shifters which elaborate ideas of self-analysis on symbolic level. In this great surrealist painting, within the great labyrinth of human existence through time, various incarnations meet and unite different socio-psychological theories of both western and latin world.

Featured image: Leonora Carrington - Ulu's Pants, 1952 via mysearchformagic © Estate of Leonora Carrington / ARS

The Son of Man - Rene Magritte

René Magritte's The Son of Man is possibly the most iconic surrealist painting of all time, as it offers numerous reinterpretations, appearances and references within the field of popular culture - from Michael Jackson's music video Scream to Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Holy Mountain. The painting is a surreal self-portrait of the author, but the very phrase The Son of Man also refers to Jesus and thus creates suspense and tension. Men with bowler hats are a frequent motif in Magritte's paintings, but here the man's face is hovered by the strange green apple, stating the unstable relation between the visible and hidden, and also conscience and subconscience in human personality.

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Featured image: René Magritte - The Son of Man, 1964 via thesquirrelreview.com. All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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