8 junio, 2024

The 11 most influential representatives of surrealism

Between the representatives of surrealism We can mention more outstanding artists of painting and sculpture such as Salvador Dalí, of poetry, such as André Breton, or of cinema, such as Luis Buñuel. Surrealism is an artistic movement that began in Paris, France, in 1924, with the surreal manifesto of Breton.

In this manifesto, Breton defined surrealism as: “pure psychic automatism through which an attempt is made to express orally, in writing or through any other method, the real functioning of thought. In the absence of any control exercised by reason and exempt from any aesthetic or moral requirement.

In this sense, the Surrealist movement is based on the belief that the sleeping mind, or unconscious mind, is the source of imagination. For this reason, the works of Surrealism are often presented as dreamlike images, drawn from dreams, with extravagant perceptions of space, incongruity, and fantastical elements.

Surrealism introduced new techniques. In the painting, for example, the frotage (from the French «to rub») and decalcomania, methods that, according to the artists of the movement, allowed the expression of the contents of the subconscious.

Decalcomania consisted of applying paint to an unframed canvas, folding it and expanding the painting, and then opening it again. In this way, the artist never had control over the results of the technique.

For its part, in literature mechanical writing was used, which consisted of writing everything that came to mind without even stopping to think about the fact of writing.

Likewise, surrealist artists dabbled in photography and film. Thus, the short film an andalusian dog (1929), written and directed by Luis Buñuel with the participation of Salvador Dalí, is one of the greatest exponents of surreal cinema.

Exponents of the surrealist movement

1. André Breton (France, 1896-1966)

Breton was a French writer and poet, considered the founder of Surrealism. His writings show certain characteristics of Dadaism, an artistic movement that preceded Surrealism and that laid the foundations for the development of the movement.

Among his writings are Nadja (1928), What is surrealism? (1934) and surreal manifesto (1924), a work that supported free expression and the liberation of the subconscious, and which marked the official start of the trend.

2. Salvador Dalí (Spain, 1904-1989)

Dalí was a painter, sculptor, engraver, stage designer and writer. He is probably one of the best-known artists of the movement, due to his projection after living in the United States. He became part of the surrealist circle after the premiere of an andalusian dog.

In his paintings, he combined superrealist and hyperrealist elements, which show a strong influence from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. His works include «The Persistence of Memory» (1931) and «Swans Reflecting Elephants.»

3. Luis Buñuel (Spain, 1900-1983)

Buñuel was a film director. His films are characterized by the representation of both dream images and subconscious desires.

He collaborated twice with Salvador Dalí, in 1928 (an andalusian dog) and in 1930 (the golden age). One of his most emblematic productions is the exterminating angel (1962), in which a group of people get locked in a diner for unknown reasons. Another of his famous movies is viridiana (1961), based on the novel Halma by Benito Perez Galdos.

4. Frida Kahlo (Mexico, 1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo was a painter known for her self-portraits. Her life was marked by her physical suffering: at 6 she suffered from polio, a disease that damaged her right leg, and at 18, she suffered a car accident that severely injured her spine and pelvis. In total, she underwent 35 operations, during which time Frida began to paint.

His paintings are strongly influenced by Mexican culture and express the suffering he had to go through after the accident, as well as the physical and mental damage it caused him.

5. Joan Miró (Spain, 1893-1983)

Miró was a painter characterized by representing hallucinations in his paintings. The paintings of him were made with a limited range of bright colors, highlighting yellow, blue, red and green.

His Miró paintings do not seek to represent the unconscious, but rather reflect the artist’s automatism. Although at one point he was interested in the unconscious of the «childish». He joined Surrealism in 1929, when he lived in Paris.

6. René Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1961)

Magritte was a Belgian painter. At first glance, his works seem to have a highly realistic character, however, after looking closely, incongruous images and scenes will be appreciated.

Magritte’s works sought to reflect what lies behind appearances. For this, he used to paint isolated objects, so that the viewer wonders about their meaning.

His period between 1920 and 1924 could be highlighted, where he shows influences from different artistic currents, such as cubism, orphism, futurism or purism.

7. Max Ernst (Germany, 1891-1976)

Ernst was a French nationalized German painter, representative of the Surrealist movement, as well as its predecessor, Dadaism. His contribution to surrealism was of great importance: in 1925, he introduced the techniques frotage and decalcomania.

Many of his works depict anthropomorphic and fantastic figures in Renaissance landscapes. Others reflect the trauma suffered during World War I.

8. Dorothea Tanning (United States, 1910-2012)

Tanning was a sculptor, illustrator, painter, and writer. She joined the surrealist circle after World War II. She lived in Paris and was related to the artistic world of the moment. In 1942 she met Max Ernst and in 1946 they were married. Her works reflect exotic images, psychotic dreams and metamorphic figures.

9. Marcel Duchamp (France, 1887-1968)

Duchamp grew up in a family of artists. Of his five siblings, three dedicated themselves to art as a profession. Duchamp’s works cannot be classified under a specific current, but they did signify a cutting moment for the evolution of Western art.

He participated in the development of Dadaism and Surrealism. One of his most notable works is «Naked down the stairs.» He was against the «symbolic sedimentation» that works of art leave over time, and for this reason he exalted the fleeting and passing.

Despite having started his artistic career as a painter, he abandoned painting and devoted himself to sculpture. As a sculptor, he presented everyday objects without even altering them. Duchamp’s work has been fundamental to the development of contemporary art.

10. Pablo Picasso (Spain, 1881-1973)

Picasso stood out for his sculptures and paintings influenced by various styles, including surrealism. He also tackled ceramics, drawing or costume design for theatrical pieces. Together with Georges Braque, he was the creator of cubism.

He is considered one of the most important painters of 20th century art for being a witness of his time. His most important work, «Guernica», depicts the tragedy of the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, which is currently on display at the Reina Sofía Art Museum in Madrid.

11. Leonora Carrington (England, 1917-2011)

An English nationalized Mexican painter and writer, she fled Europe during World War II and settled in Mexico. She lived in Paris and was associated with the Surrealist movement.

She is one of the main representatives of surrealism, with paintings such as «The magical world of the Mayas», «Green tea» or «The Giantess». As for her literary work, she captured her terrible experience of a group rape by some requetés in Spain, in 1939, which destabilized her mentally. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Santander, from which she escaped a few years later.

This period of her life reflected her in memories below, from 1945, for which André Breton considered her «a witch, the seer from the other side, who returned from the underworld with visionary powers». She in her last years dedicated herself to sculpture, capturing images of the Celtic fairy tales with which she grew up.


Surrealist Art in NOMA’s Collection. Retrieved from noma.org.
Breton, Andre. Manifesto of Surrealism Retrieved from exquisitecorspe.com.
Surrealism and Women Artists. Retrieved from lacma.org.
Turkel, D. The Message of Surrealist Art: Automatism, Juxtaposition and Dreams. Recovered from danturkel.com.

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