Library Guide for Surrealism

Surrealism emerged in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s as a literary and cultural movement out of the Dadaism activities during World War One. Best known for its visual artworks and writings, artists painted unusual, illogical scenes, sometimes with photographic precision, often creating strange creatures from everyday objects. André Breton, the father of Surrealism, defined the movement in terms of “psychic automatism in its pure state by expressing verbally, as in the written word, or in any other manner, the actual functioning of thought.” More specifically, Surrealism is “dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason and exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Surrealism experimented with a new method of expression called automatic writing, or automatism, thereby releasing the unrestrained imagination of the subconscious.

Based in Paris, the movement was officially introduced with the publication of the Breton’s 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism” and along with his fellow poets, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, and Philippe Soupault, they were influenced by psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and political philosophy of Karl Marx. While at first reluctant to associate themselves with visual artists, they admired Giorgio de Chirico, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp because of the analytic and erotic qualities of their work. Several significant artists, such as, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró and Man Ray, all worked with Surrealist techniques and imagery. By 1927, Rene Magritte had become established as a leader of the movement, noted for painting erotically explicit objects juxtaposed in dreamlike settings. Magritte laid the groundwork for a new form of illusionistic Surrealism developed by Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux and Yves Tanguy.

With Dalí’s move from Spain to Paris in 1929, he produced his first Surrealist paintings and expanded on Magritte’s dream imagery with his own erotically-inspired, hallucinatory visions. In the 1930’s, Dalí evolved as a central figure, commanding attention with both his provocative ideas and stunning, sensational works. He developed many of the most distinctive images associated with Surrealism, including his double images and the singular, defining icon of the movement – the melting clock. With the onset of World War Two, the key figures of Surrealism moved to New York, but the movement renewed itself through the efforts of Peggy Guggenheim and Julien Levy with their galleries. Surrealism continues to flourish throughout the world with its influence affecting the visual arts, literature, film, and music as well as politics, philosophy, and social theory.


Sources about Surrealism in The Dalí Museum Library:


Richardson, Michael. The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism, Volumes 1-3. Bloomsbury, 2019.

The three volumes of this encyclopedia are entitled: Movements, Surrealists A-L, and Surrealists M-Z. This massive work is the first comprehensive and systematic overview of Surrealism across the world, tracing its development from its roots to the present day. Volume 1 encompasses Surrealism’s influence on the visual, applied and performing arts, and analyses of its primary concepts. Volumes 2 and 3 focus on the individuals, ranging from poets to critics to painters and film-makers, who have contributed to the movement.

  • Call Number: NX456.5 .S8 I58 2019 V.1-3


Ades, Dawn. Dada and Surrealism. Thames and Hudson, 1974.

This compact book provides a historical perspective on both Dadaism and Surrealism with a chronological sequence of both movements. Ades explores the contributions of the various leading artists of both movements, including Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Breton, and Salvador Dalí, among several others.  The volume features 64 pages in color of illustrations as well as many black and white reproductions and photographs.

  • Call Number: NX600 .D3 A33 1974


Rosemont, Franklin. André Breton – What Is Surrealism – Selected Writings. Monad, 1978.

This compilation of Breton’s writings presents a compact survey of his views and perspectives of Surrealism as they evolved through his career. These samples of his philosophy serve as a guide to groups and individuals, who have championed the surrealist cause in dozens of countries. About half of the selections are published in English for the first time and others are reprinted from out-of-print periodicals.

  • Call Number: NX600 .S9 R68 1978b


Finkelstein, Haim N. Surrealism and the Crisis of the Object. UMI, 1979.

This work explores some of the manifestations of the Crisis of the Object in surrealist thought and art. The complexity of the subject matter defies any comprehensive conclusion, creating the need for a subsequent study to examine the Crisis of the Object, a new primitivism, on modern consciousness. This volume has laid the groundwork for future research in this significant field.

  • Call Number: NX600 .S9 F56 1979


Foster, Hal. Compulsive Beauty. MIT Press, 1993.

The book examines Surrealism from its darker side as an art from the perspective of uncanny and restaging the difficult encounter of Surrealism with Freudian psychoanalysis. Further analysis redefines the critical categories of Surrealism – the marvelous, convulsive beauty, objective chance – in terms of the Freudian uncanny, or the return of familiar things made strange by repression. The fate of Surrealism today is discussed in a brief conclusion.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 F66 1993


Kachar, Lewis. Displaying the Marvelous – Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, and Surrealist Exhibition Installations. MIT Press, 2001.

This book explores the early version of installation art by analyzing three elaborate Surrealist installations between 1938 and 1942. Both the Exposition Internationale du Surrealism (1938) and the “Dream of Venus” pavilion at the New York
World’s Fair (1939) focused on the fetishization of the female body, while the third, First Papers of Surrealism (1942) shifted from the figure to the entire expanse of the exhibition space. The volume considers Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali within a common framework – Duchamp specializing in frustrating the spectator and Dalí was a master at disorienting the senses.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 K33 2001


Matthews, J.J. The Imagery of Surrealism. Syracuse University Press, 1977.

In five core chapters of this book, the theory underlying surrealist pictorial and verbal imagery is evaluated, making it easier to understand the ramifications of surrealist imagery. Extensive analysis of surrealist pictures and word poems are presented along with pictorial, graphic, and verbal images of Surrealism. More than one hundred twenty illustrations from thirty countries provide a broad selection of experimental techniques, reflecting the complete history of the surrealist movement from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, including automatic drawings, collages, exquisite corpses, poem-objects, plus examples of decalcomania, ecremage, and etrecissement.

  • Call Number: NX600 .S9 M37 1977


Fer, Briony; Batchelor, David; Wood Paul. Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism – Art Between the Wars. Yale University Press, 1993.

This book addresses debates in, and about, the avant-garde in the years between the two world wars. The journey begins with responses by artists to the First World War with the competing movements of Purism, Dada and early Surrealism and continues with the emergence of construction art. The legacy of Freud in relation to Surrealism is examined and finally, the widespread debate over the question of Realism in art completes this comprehensive study.

  • Call Number: N6494 .R4 F47 1994


Durozoi, Gerard. History of the Surrealist Movement. The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

This comprehensive volume is an encyclopedia-like overview of the history of Surrealism, tracing the movement from its origins in the 1920s to its decline in the 1950s and 1960s. Drawing on an extensive amount of documentary and visual evidence, including 1000 photographs, Durozoi integrates all of the intellectual and artistic elements of the movement, from literature and philosophy to painting, photography and film. This text represents the definitive and indispensable source for all things related to Surrealism.

  • Call Number: NX456.5 .S8 D8713 2002


Jean, Marcel. The Autobiography of Surrealism. Viking Press, 1980.

This anthology presents carefully selected and newly translated extracts from the key figures of the Surrealist movement, weaving them into a narrative format of poetry, fiction, drama, polemics, and other documents. The first section of the collection is devoted to the “ancestors of Surrealism – Chirico, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and Lautréamont – and incorporates quotes from humorists with an intellectual kinship, such as, Jonathan Swift and Edward Lear. However, the majority of the volume encompasses the books, reviews, magazine and other works of the surrealists themselves with excerpts that trace the movement from its pre-Dadaist beginnings to 1980.

  • Call Number: NX600 .S9 A95 1980


Chadwick, Whitney. Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement. Thames and Hudson, 1985.

This pioneering book is considered the most comprehensive treatment of the lives, ideas and art of the group of women who were the foundation of the Surrealist movement – Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim and Dorothea Tanning, among several others. Their stories and achievements are presented against the background of the turbulent decades of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. This work contains a wealth of extracts from unpublished writings and a multitude of illustrations never before reproduced.

  • Call Number: NX600 .S9 C48 1985


Shell, Oliver and Tostmann, Oliver. Monsters & Myths – Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s. The Baltimore Museum of Art and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2018.

This volume is a ground-breaking examination of the impact of the rise of Fascism and the phenomenon of war in general on the Surrealist movement. Essays by experts in the field and more than 130 color images showcase the experimental and international scope of Surrealist art during the decades leading up to World War II and throughout the war. Responses from the movement’s major figures – Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, André Masson, and Joan Miró – as well as those of many lesser-known artists, such as, Wifredo Lam, Wolfgang Paalen, and Kay Sage are included in this exhibition catalog.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 M667 2018


Wood, Ghislaine. Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design. V&A Publications, 2007.

This book is the first of its kind to analyze in-depth the influence of Surrealism on the fields of design and the decorative arts and its awkward relationship with the commercial world. From the sensuality of Salvador Dalí’s “Mae West Lips Sofa” to Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Tear Dress,” Surrealism’s emotive objects are examined from various perspectives. This catalog offers a wide range of celebrated works, including painting, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, furniture, fashion and photography, as a means to link Surrealism’s relationship with the material world, citing 45 star objects for special consideration.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 V536 2007


Ades, Dawn. Surrealist Art. Thames and Hudson, 1997.

This exhibition catalog of the Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago presents 116 works ranging from drawings and collages to paintings and sculptures. Featured in the book are thirty-three artists representing a who’s who of the Surrealist movement – from Breton, Dali, and Ernst to Magritte, Miro, and Picasso. An introductory essay on the scope of the collection is provided and each object is accompanied by information on provenance, literature, and exhibition history as well as commentary.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 A33 1997


Surrealism: Two Private Eyes. Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1999.

This comprehensive and lavish two-volume exhibition catalog of the collections of Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi is a rich, dynamic presentation of the most important grouping of Surrealist art in private hands. Wide-ranging in scope, these volumes include major paintings, sculpture, photographs, works on papers, rare books, and off-the-cuff ephemera by many leading figures of the movement, such as, Dalí, Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray, and Tanguy. Also, the collection features stunning examples by such precursors as Giorgio de Chirico as well as by artists related to the Surrealist movement, including Frida Kahlo. The two-volume set includes more than 1,000 large-format, full-color reproductions with the first devoted to painting and objects and the second focused on drawing, collage, photograph, bindings and examples of that most Surrealist of mediums, the exquisite corpse.

  • Call Number: N6494 .S8 S8764 1999


Written by Ira Piller




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