- Une Femme Invisible, (About Louis Aragon's mother) (French edition)By Nathalie Piégay
- Five Nights in ParisBy John Baxter
- Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon: An Introduction to Their Interwoven Lives and Works (Studies in French Literature)By Max Adereth
- Paris and the SurrealistsBy George Melly
Louis Aragon and Important Artists and Artworks
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.
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".
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'".