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Artists André Breton
André Breton Photo

André Breton

French Theoretician and Writer

Movements and Styles: Dada, Surrealism

Born: February 19, 1896 - Normandy, France

Died: September 28, 1966 - Paris, France

André Breton Timeline


"Surrealism is based on the belief .. in the omnipotence of dreams, in the undirected play of thought."
Manifesto of Surrealism
"The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot."
André Breton
"It is often repeated that Leonardo da Vinci advised his pupils, searching for a suitable original subject, to stare fixedly at an old, decrepit wall. "Very soon," he said, "you will notice forms and scenes that will become more and more precise.. From then on you will only have to copy what you see and to complete it where necessary." Whatever references continue to be made to this, one can only say that this lesson has been lost. The beautiful interpretive wall, brimming with lizards, is not but a fencepost toppling on the highway, before which a landscape that never has had time to form itself reconstitutes, furthermore, the magic mirror in which life and death may be read.. Let us cast a glance of sincere appreciation on these elementary surfaces in which the future world has for so long elected to compose itself. Coffee grounds, scrap iron, cloudy mirror: it is still of you that the impenetrably bright veils on the hats of young women are made."
André Breton
"The imaginary is what tends to become real."
André Breton
"Even the most stable and best poised mind cannot help being fixed, for the moment, on the nightly shrieks of sirens, the dragonlike tongues of flame, which forebode the roar of tanks being hurled against each other. One cannot help being affected in one's inmost being. Nothing will help to obscure the depths, not only of horror but, even more, of the irrational and nonintelligent background upon which, at least for the time being, the intellectual and artistic figures of the mind are traced."
André Breton
"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all."
André Breton
"[Surrealism is] pure psychic automation by which one intends to express verbally, in writing, or by other methods, the real functioning of the mind."
Manifesto of Surrealism

"When will the arbitrary be granted the place it deserves in the formation of works and ideas?"

André Breton Signature


André Breton was an original member of the Dada group who went on to start and lead the Surrealist movement in 1924. In New York, Breton and his colleagues curated Surrealist exhibitions that introduced ideas of automatism and intuitive art making to the first Abstract Expressionists. He worked in various creative media, focusing on collage and printmaking as well as authoring several books. Breton innovated ways in which text and image could be united through chance association to create new, poetic word-image combinations. His ideas about accessing the unconscious and using symbols for self-expression served as a fundamental conceptual building block for New York artists in the 1940s.

Key Ideas

Breton was a major member of the Dada group and the founder of Surrealism. He was dedicated to avant-garde art-making and was known for his ability to unite disparate artists through printed matter and curatorial pursuits.
Breton drafted the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, declaring Surrealism as "pure psychic automatism," deeply affecting the methodology and origins of future movements, such as Abstract Expressionism.
One of Breton's fundamental beliefs was in art as an anti-war protest, which he postulated during the First World War. This notion re-gained potency during and after World War II, when the early Abstract Expressionist artists were creating works to demonstrate their outrage at the atrocities happening in Europe.


André Breton Photo


André Breton was born in a small village, although his family relocated to a Parisian suburb soon after. He excelled in school and developed literary interests quite early. Breton read the French Decadents, such as Charles Baudelaire, J.K. Huysmans, Stephane Mallarme, and the German Romantic writers, all of whom informed his early thoughts on Avant-Gardism. By 1912, Breton had a cultivated knowledge of Contemporary art and begun to study Anarchism as a political movement. While he loved the French Decadent artists, such as Gustave Moreau, he began to separate himself from their belief in "art for art's sake," in favor of art that appealed to the masses.

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André Breton Biography Continues

Important Art by André Breton

The below artworks are the most important by André Breton - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Egg in the church or The Snake (Date Unknown)
Artwork Images

Egg in the church or The Snake (Date Unknown)

Artwork description & Analysis: Egg in the church or The Snake is an example of photographic collage that was popularized by Surrealists like Breton and Man Ray. Typical of Breton, the title is both symbolic and enigmatic and its subject matter is cryptic and dream-like. It exemplifies the Surrealist interest in the female body as form, as well as an interest in themes concerning sexuality and religion, as elucidated by Georges Bataille. Bataille's text dealt, in part, with Christianity's repression of desire. Breton and his colleagues aspired to reduce all sexual repressions to symbols and language that would serve freedom of expression.

Collage on Paper - Musée d'Ixelles

Poeme (1924)
Artwork Images

Poeme (1924)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is an early example of a Surrealist collage that fuses text and image. Breton wrote this poem the same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto. More than a poetic expression, it reveals Breton's increasing belief in journalism as a potent artistic form as the piece uses newspaper and magazine clipping materials as its source. The text is absurdist and constructs its own logic that would not make sense to a reader trying to understand it as traditional language.

Collage on paper - Elsa Adamowicz

The African Mask (1947-48)
Artwork Images

The African Mask (1947-48)

Artwork description & Analysis: The African Mask is a good example of Breton's studies of Primitive art and its shamanistic potency. Breton was renowned for his mask collection. The first mask he purchased was from Easter Island. While in the United States, Breton traveled around the country, visiting several Native American sites and collecting masks all along the way. He was interested in them as visual objects as well as the metaphorical concept as a window into one's inner mind.

Ink and wax on paper - Mark Borghi Fine Art

More André Breton Artwork and Analysis:

Cadavre Exquis with André Breton, Max Morise, Jeannette Tanguy, Pierre Naville, Benjamin Peret, Yves Tanguy and Jacques Prevert (1928) Poeme Objet (1935)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
André Breton
Interactive chart with André Breton's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Tristan TzaraTristan Tzara
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia
Jacques VacheJacques Vache
Gustave MoreauGustave Moreau

Personal Contacts

Comte de LautremontComte de Lautremont
Arthur RimbaudArthur Rimbaud
Louis AragonLouis Aragon
Antonin ArtaudAntonin Artaud
Paul EluardPaul Eluard



Influences on Artist
André Breton
André Breton
Years Worked: 1916 - 1966
Influenced by Artist


Man RayMan Ray
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock

Personal Contacts

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Diego RiveraDiego Rivera
Frida KahloFrida Kahlo
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

Useful Resources on André Breton

Special Features







artist features

Breton and The Surrealists - Master Marketers

Top 10 marketing stunts by Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, and Salvador Dali.

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton Recomended resource

By Mark Polizzotti

written by artist

André Breton: Selections (Poets for the Millennium, 1)

By André Breton


By André Breton

More Interesting Books about André Breton
The Leading Surreal Light

By Christopher Merrill
The Los Angeles Times
July 18, 1993

André Breton: Surrealism, Dada, and the Abstract Expressionists

By Gary Comenas


Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton

Interview with André Breton Biographer Mark Polizzotti by Perry Lindstrom

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