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André Breton Photo

André Breton

French Theoretician and Writer

Born: February 19, 1896 - Normandy, France
Died: September 28, 1966 - Paris, France
Movements and Styles:
"When will the arbitrary be granted the place it deserves in the formation of works and ideas?"
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André Breton Signature
"Surrealism is based on the belief .. in the omnipotence of dreams, in the undirected play of thought."
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Manifesto of Surrealism
"The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot."
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André Breton Signature
"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."
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André Breton Signature
"The imaginary is what tends to become real."
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André Breton Signature
"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."
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André Breton Signature
"Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all."
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André Breton Signature
"[Surrealism is] pure psychic automation by which one intends to express verbally, in writing, or by other methods, the real functioning of the mind."
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Manifesto of Surrealism

Summary of André Breton

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.


  • 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.

Biography of André Breton

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.

Important Art by André Breton

Progression of Art
Date Unknown

Egg in the church or The Snake

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



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

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


Cadavre Exquis with André Breton, Max Morise, Jeannette Tanguy, Pierre Naville, Benjamin Peret, Yves Tanguy and Jacques Prevert

This is an example of an artwork made as an Exquisite Corpse, a Surrealist game developed to free the mind and to tap into subconscious forces, similar to doodling. In this game, artist fold the page into sections and hide previous contributions or build upon one another's collaborative efforts to create a work that is inspired by consecutive artistic moves. In Breton's early development of theories about automatism, he and his colleagues made many of these collages. They also emphasize the act of collaboration, which was a fundamental ideal to both Dada and Surrealism.

Collage on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Estate of Yves Tanguy


Poeme Objet

Breton made many Poem Objects, such as this assemblage constructed around a plaster egg. Many of his Poem Objects were assemblages. The text on the plaster egg in this work translates as "I see / I imagine" though the poem beneath is deliberately cryptic. Like the Exquisite Corpse, Breton made these objects as a reflection of his inner mind, and also thought of them as analytical tools that could be analyzed, like dreams.

Mixed media collage - National Galleries of Scotland

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"André Breton Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Jul 2009. Updated and modified regularly
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