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Louis Aragon Photo

Louis Aragon

French Poet and Writer

Born: October 3, 1897 - Paris, France
Died: December 24, 1982 - Paris, France
"Your imagination, my dear fellow, is worth more than you imagine."
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Louis Aragon
"I demand that my books be judged with utmost severity, by knowledgeable people who know the rules of grammar and of logic, and who will seek beneath the footsteps of my commas the lice of my thought in the head of my style."
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Louis Aragon
"The vice named Surrealism is the immoderate and impassioned use of the stupefacient image or rather of the uncontrolled provocation of the image for its own sake and for the element of unpredictable perturbation and of metamorphosis which it introduces into the domain of representation; for each image on each occasion forces you to revise the entire Universe."
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Louis Aragon
"We know that the nature of genius is to provide idiots with ideas twenty years later."
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Louis Aragon
"Love is made by two people, in different kinds of solitude. It can be in a crowd, but in an oblivious crowd."
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Louis Aragon
"In our day there are no longer any ideas, or they are scarcer than hens' teeth."
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Louis Aragon
"Geniuses are like ocean liners: they should never meet."
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Louis Aragon
"I have no friends, there are only people I love."
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Louis Aragon

Summary of Louis Aragon

Emerging as a major figure in the avant-garde movements that defined France's early 20th century cultural identity, Aragon's long career as a poet, novelist, communist polemicist and bona-fide war hero, secured him his place in the pantheon of French literary greats. With André Breton and Phillipe Soupault, Aragon launched the Surrealist movement and through his 1926 novel, Paysan de Paris (Paris Peasant), produced what is considered by most to be the movement's defining literary text. Having parted company with the movement in the early 1930s, Aragon devoted his energies to the French Communist Party and went on to produce a vast body of literature that combined elements of the avant-garde and social realism. Following the death of his beloved wife, Elsa Triolet, Aragon emerged as a public figure who positively flaunted his new identity as a dandyish homosexual around Paris.

Accomplishments

  • Bonded (and scarred) by their experiences of war Aragon, André Breton and Phillipe Soupault returned to Paris where they announced their affiliation with the Dadaists by jointly launching the magazine Littérature. Aragon confirmed his own Dada credentials through poems and novels that satirized bourgeois morality. These works, including the novel Anicet ou le panorama, contained an ethereal quality that anticipated the transition from Dada to Surrealism.
  • As author of Paysan de Paris (Paris Peasant), Aragon had produced a city dreamscape that would become the archetype of Surrealist literature. Based on the idea, borrowed from Freudian psychoanalysis, that the unconscious mind was the repository of human truth, Aragon combined elements of autobiography and dream logic in a novel that put Paris's more obscure bohemian locations on the city's Surrealist map.
  • Helped by his substantial reputation within the artists' community, Aragon was - first as writer for the socialist journal L'Humanité, and then as co-editor of the newsletter for the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists - instrumental in the ideological fight against fascism. Indeed, Aragon's reputation was such that, at the behest of the French Communist Party (PCF), he drew together a cadre of esteemed writers for the evening newspaper Ce-Soir that was at the forefront of raising awareness of the rise in Fascism across Europe.
  • Aragon's place withing the pantheon of the French avant-garde was only strengthened by his fierce patriotism and commitment to the French war effort. Having won medals for heroism in both world wars, he, and his wife Elsa Triolet (to whom he dedicated a series of tender love poems) joined the French Resistance and became its most important anti-Nazi propagandists. Through his poem collection, "Musée Grévin", he was the first to write about the Auschwitz concentration camp and the existence of gas chambers.

Biography of Louis Aragon

Portrait de Louis Aragon from the Bibliothèque nationale de France

As a founder of the Surrealist movement, Aragon was committed to the principle of automatism: "What I am thinking naturally expresses itself", he wrote, "I do not think without writing, which is to say that writing is my method of thinking".

Louis Aragon and Important Artists and Artworks

A Friends' Reunion (1922)

Artist: Max Ernst

This group portrait - front row from left to right: René Crevel, Max Ernst (sitting on Dostoyevsky's knee), Theodor Fraenkel, Jean Paulhan, Benjamin Péret, Johannes Th. Baargeld, Robert Desnos. Back row: Philippe Soupault, Hans Arp, Max Morise, Raffaele Sanzio, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon (with Laurel wreath around his hips), André Breton, Giorgio de Chirico, Gala Eluard - depicts members of an early iteration of the Surrealist group.

The sitters are placed in a surrealistic glacial environment with enchanting circular motifs in the background. Each member of the group has a number hovering close to their face which corresponds with their name written on two floating scrolls in the bottom corners of the picture. Baargeld, Breton and Desnos are sweeping in with forward moving steps from the right. They are met with a directional counterbalance in the hands of Ernst, Paulhan and Péret (seated in the centre). At their feet is a cubist-like chopping board-cum-boardgame with a knife and cut apple. Crevel sits behind the board with his back to us while he interacts with a stage maquette. Aragon is depicted with a laurel round his waist and stands just behind a gestural Breton. Their gray faces are mirrored in the face of de Chirico who is represented in the form of a marble bust (much like the marble sculptures he would paint).

Writer and politician Pierre Juquin picked up on the awkward positioning of Aragon and Breton: "they're there together obviously, but seized by an almost forced relationship", he argued. At this stage of their friendship (1922) Breton was like a mentor to Aragon. But following the publication of Paysan de Paris (Paris Peasant) in 1926, Aragon threatened to eclipse Breton as the most influential member of the group. An unspoken, but palpable, rivalry developed between the two men before they finally went their separate ways in the early 1930s.

Portrait of Louis Aragon (1923)

Artist: André Masson

This discombobulated portrait stretches Aragon's image across the picture plane. The mark-making is highly gestural but Masson has given us a point of detail in the center where some of the "airborne" lines appear to collect. The head of Aragon is constructed with loose marks so that it is like he's barely present - about to disappear in a "puff of smoke". Around this centre point the other outlines and flying marks seem to orbit, giving a circular emphasis to the drawing. The application of ink on the paper is suggestive, we can spot ambiguous forms - a foot, a button perhaps, all of which then come out of focus and disintegrates once again into lines that send our gaze off in all directions. The name "Louis Aragon" is written into the drawing, incorporated into the image and even mimicked by some dense illegible scribbles higher up in the picture plane. This, and the use of black ink on plain white paper, is evocative of the practice of writing, which alludes to Aragon's career as well as the mutability of Surrealism: from poetry and prose to the pictorial arts.

This piece is quite typical of Masson's surrealist drawings. The two struck up a close friendship in the early twenties and collaborated many times artistically. Indeed, Masson was the dedicatee on Aragon's most famous surrealist book Paysan de Paris and provided erotic illustrations for Le Con d'Irène, Aragon's salacious novella. Later on in his career in 1977, Aragon wrote Masson a cantata (choral composition) which was accompanied by earlier drawings by the artist along with the caption: "In homage to André Masson and to mark here precisely what he was, what he is for me, throughout our lives: the great mental forest of our dreams".

Portrait of Louis Aragon (1942)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Matisse's Portrait of Louis Aragon reflects the men's close friendship that lasted close to thirty years. Indeed, Aragon's last important work was the two-volume novel/memoir he published in 1971. Matisse produced a series of portrait drawings - four charcoal sketches and thirty-four pen and black ink drawings - of his friend during the height of the war and repeated the sequecing method he had used in his celebrated Thèmes et Variations compilation (for which Aragon had supplied the introductory essay). Matisse focused on the idea of capturing a single subject from multiple perspectives and using charcoal sketches and pure line drawings as a means of emphasizing those variations.

Katharine Arnold, Head of Sales at Christies New York, wrote that Matisse had presented "an almost cinematic sequence of views, moving from front to three-quarter and profile views of the sitter" through which the artist "eloquently capture[d] Aragon's likeness through the briefest outlines of his form". She adds that following the completion of the series, "Aragon found it difficult to identify himself in the images [...] Suffering both physically and mentally as a result of the deprivations of life in war-torn France, and filled with an all-consuming anxiety regarding the safety of his friends and family, Aragon failed to see himself in the confident, fresh-faced debonair that populated Matisse's drawings. It took him a long time to realize the accuracy of Matisse's portrayal, acknowledging that the artist had managed to capture not one, 'but thirty of my different selves'".

Influences and Connections

Influences on Louis Aragon
Louis Aragon
Influenced by Louis Aragon
Open Influences
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Content compiled and written by Esme Blair

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Louis Aragon Influencer Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Esme Blair
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 25 Jul 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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