Pre-Surrealism, Futurism, Purism and Dada

Pre-Surrealism Futurism, Purism, Magic Realism, and Dada

There were many styles that influenced young Rene Magritte when he went to  Brussels in November 1915 to study at the art academy (Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts). Essentially Magritte developed a cubist/futurist style from around 1918 to 1925. He was strongly influenced by Purism and used an Art Deco style for his advertising designs for Norine, Alpha Romeo, and Samuels from 1924 until the mid 1930s (for Studio Dongo) when he cut back on his advertising commitments. 

Besides poetry, philosophy, movies (Fantomas) and literature his big artist influence was Giorgio de Chiricho (1888- 1978) a proponent of Magic Realism. Around 1925 Magritte changed his cubo-futurist style and followed a style closely alligned with Giorgio de Chiricho.

Magritte's close friend, ELT Mesens, helped Rene explore "Futurism." ELT was a Dadaist and Magritte worked with ELT doing illustrations for various Dada reviews (magazines). Magritte was a Dadaist until the Belgian group unified behind Paul Nouge and became the Belgian Surrealist group. Magritte was not accepted into the Paris group until 1928, one year after he moved to Paris.

Here's a list of some of the important artistic movements in the early 1900s and when they began. Some of the styles Magritte did not incorporate:

Cubism- 1907 (Pablo Picasso) In 1918 when Rene began work as a poster and advertisement designer for a wallpaper company at Peters Lacroix, he met the painter Victor Servranckx, who had already developed a cubist style. Magritte worked under the supervision of Servranckx and they had become friends and colaborators. After he began his new style in 1925, Magritte still did several paintings in a cubist style including The Acrobat's Ideas and later, after Picasso's 1930 "Seated Bather," painted "The White Race." 

Opus 40a by Victor Servranckx 1922

The Eight- The Ashcan School- 1908

Futurism- 1909 Magritte was given a futurist catalogue by Pierre Bourgeois shortly after they met at the Art Academy. By 1920 Magritte and ELT Mesens requested more information from the leader of the movement Fillipo Marinetti and received more of Marinetti's futurism pamphets.

Jack of Diamonds- 1910

Der Blaue Reiter- 1911

Section d'Or (Golden Section)- 1912

Orphism- 1912

Rayonism- 1912

Constructivism- 1913

Vorticism- 1914

Suprematism- 1915
Dadaism- 1916 Magritte and ELT Mesens were involved in many avant-garde political movements. Dada was a reaction against the politics that lead to First World War (1916) and remained a popular artistic movement until around 1924 when it was replaced by surrealism. Both men espoused Dadaism and were actively promoting Dada through a series of magazines and reviews.

De Stijl - 1917 After attending a lecture on the Dutch movement by abstractionist Theo van Doesburg titled De Stijl (The Style) in February 1920, Magritte began a series of paintings exploring those principles.

Pittura Metafisica/Magic Realism (Metaphysical Art)- 1917 In 1922 (this event may have occured as late as 1925) Rene Magritte made one of the most important artist discoveries of his carreer in Giorgio De Chirico's pre-surrealist works (1914-1918). Rene and his friend ELT Mesens were shown a reproduction of De Chirico's The Song of Love in Les Cahiers Libres by Marcel Lecomte.  Magritte was so moved by the image that it moved him to tears. This provided true inspiration Magritte decided to make each of his painting a visual poem; a quality he found present in De Chirico's works. He didn't explore the style until 1925.

Purism - 1918 In the early 1920s Servranckx and Magritte developed an artistic style based on purism, cubism and futurism they called Cubo-Futurist which in some ways was similar to Art Deco. Then in 1922 they wrote "Pure Art: A Defence of the Aesthetic." Here's an excerpt:

APPLIED ART KILLS PURE ART: The devastation caused by applied art is considerable. In order to survive many artists waste their time on the production of applied art objects which are sold on a large scale. These mediocre works tend to satisfy the aesthetic needs of mankind. As a result people lose interest in the pure works of art of these artists to the extent that they become unsaleable. Artists should be able to support themselves with their work. (Magritte and Servranckx- 1922)

Neo-plasticism- 1919

The Bauhaus school- 1919

Art Deco- 1920 Magritte designed ads for Norine and Samuels in a surrealist Art Deco style.

Precisionism- 1920

New Objectivity- 1924

Novecento group- 1924
Surrealism- 1924

Surrealism officially emerged as a movement, although not necessarily a movement in the visual arts, with the 1924 publication of a manifesto by the French poet Andre Breton. Breton's sensibilities, like those of Surrealism in general, were sharply denned by the broad and preceding development of ideas in the European art world.

Surrealism embodied a contradiction. Like the avant-garde, their dream of revolution was a radical break from the past into something new. At the same time, they argued that their moment of "revolution" was heralded by history—if one selected the right history! Surrealism was to be the heir of a new, modern spirit at the same time that it was also an historical accretion, slowly emerging from broader, older streams of human creativity. The broad tapestry provided individual threads to be rewoven—from the naturalism of the Italian Renaissance to the ideas of the major avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Metaphysical Art, and Dadaism. 

The central shaping force was the energy of the nascent century, the feeling embodied in the coming of electricity, the airplane, and the motorcar. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the First World War, a conflagration that began on horseback and ended with tanks. The Second World War served as a bracket to energies that defined the European avant-garde before, during, and after the Surrealists.

One thread begins, ironically, with Pablo Picasso and the Cubism in Paris. Little could seem further from the rebellions of the Surrealists than this art, with its clean, almost machinelike edges of flat "cubes." But not only was Picasso Breton's favorite artist, Cubism was also the origin of a basic pictorial language and attitude for the avant-garde of the new century. The techniques developed by Cubism during the years 1912 to 1914—such as the use of collage and the inclusion of found objects— were applied by many artists and movements throughout Europe to ends quite different than the Cubism had envisioned. Nowhere was this more true than among the German Expressionists, many of whom became members of the Dada movement after 1916. By 1919, collage in the hands of an artist like Max Ernst was considered to be proto-Surrealist. Thus Surrealism drew upon the earlier elements in Cubism and Expressionism. And there were other sources.

The young hellions of the Italian Futurist movement began in 1909 to develop an art and philosophy of energy and dynamism to force their classically laden past to merge with the future of a speeding automobile. Much of the nihilism and many of the tactics they developed were picked up several years later by the Dadaists, whose cabaret's drums and performances beat steadily against, or perhaps in tune with, the drums of war.

By 1919, Andre Breton and his group of French poets were direct heirs to Dadaists ideas that had developed across Europe and were beginning to congeal in Paris. By 1922, they began to break away from the Dadaists to form a less negative program. Breton, especially, turned to the ideas of Sigmund Freud to establish a psychoanalytic foundation for the Surrealist dream of revolution. Two years later, Breton published the "First Surrealist Manifesto." Within one year the Surrealists mounted their first exhibition of visual art in Paris, and by 1926 they opened their own art gallery. In 1929 dissension in the Surrealist ranks broke into an open schism against Breton's authoritarian leadership and political alignment with the French Communist Party. This period of crisis in the movement opened a second branch of Surrealism associated with the more radicalized ideas of Georges Bataille. Ironically, new members arrived in the early 1930s, and the movement became known worldwide with a series of international exhibitions that lasted into the 1950s.

By 1939, with Franco's Fascist victory in Spain, the Russo-German pact, and the beginning of World War II, the Surrealists, already international in membership and orientation, spread away from the Continent. Many arrived in the United States by 1941 and their presence profoundly affected the development of art in New York. By the end of World War II, the Americans had accumulated sufficient information from the Europeans to begin their own synthesis of ideas, culminating in Abstract Expressionism. But the impact of Surrealist ideas did not end there.

Many of the Surrealists continued to work into the 1950s and '60s, and they provided a focus to two more generations of artists. Young Americans, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, exhibited with them in the 1950s. Other artists in the late 1950s and 60s involved in Happenings and the beginnings of performance art felt the shaping force of the Surrealists. Assemblage artists, such as Lee Bontecou, and those using organic shapes and psychological motifs, like Louise Bourgeois, owed much of their aesthetic to the first systematic explorations of the psyche employed by Surrealism.

A book on Surrealism also becomes a book addressed to the avant-garde spirit, a span of time and ideas which forms a large part of the most stimulating art and ideas in the twentieth century. It was a period of great promise, a Utopia, where they dreamed the dream of revolution.


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