André Masson
Year, Birthplace 1896, France
Year, Place of death 1987
In 1905, André Masson's family moved to Brussels, where he entered the city’s Académie royale des beaux-arts and the École des arts décoratifs at the age of eleven. In 1912, he arrived in Paris with his family, where he informally attended courses at the École nationale des beaux-arts. With the help of a grant he discovered Tuscany in 1914 with his companion Maurice Loutreuil before being mobilised to fight in the war. Seriously wounded at the Battle of Marne in 1917, he was subsequently imprisoned for antimilitarism, an experience which would fuel a life-long hatred of war and belligerence. After returning to Paris in 1919, he took up painting again, this time in a cubist style. He became associated with Manolo Hugué (a witness at his wedding), Pinchus Krémègne, and Chaïm Soutine. In the winter of 1921-1922, he lived at no. 45 rue Blomet, next door to Joan Miró. Through Max Jacob he came to know Roland Tual, Jean Dubuffet, Armand Salacrou, Georges Limbour, Michel Leiris, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, André Beaudin, Suzanne Roger, Elie Lascaux, Antonin Artaud, and André Malraux, all of whom would become his friends. Kahnweiler, who ran the Galerie Simon, offered him a contract in late 1922 and staged his first solo exhibition at the start of 1924 (with a preface by Limbour) at which André Breton purchased the work Les Quatre Éléments [The Four Elements]. The meeting between Breton and Masson took place in September. Masson began to frequent the Bureau de Recherches Surréalistes, participating in the group's activities and appearing in the first issue of the journal La Révolution Surréaliste. For the surrealists, particularly the writers, the drawings that he produced from 1924 onwards were the visual equivalent of automatic writing. Masson then met Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, Louis Aragon, Marcel Noll, Max Morise, Georges Malkine, and Robert Desnos, and later, in 1925, Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, and Marcel Duhamel, who lived on the rue du Château. His studio was one of the preferred meeting places for the surrealists’ collective activities. His relations with Breton deteriorated in early 1927 and a year later Masson rejected the collective action project contained in the Second Manifesto, broke with Breton and distanced himself from the group without actually being excluded from it. From 1925 onwards, after abandoning his studio on the rue Blomet, Masson moves to the Midi region. He had produced erotic drawings since 1922 and in 1928 he illustrated L’Histoire de l'œil by Lord Auch (Georges Bataille) and Le Con d’Irène by Albert de Roustisie (Louis Aragon) for René Bonnel and Pascal Pia. He also illustrated Sade’s Justine, although the work never came to be published. He illustrated L’Anus solaire in 1931 and Sacrifices in 1933 for Georges Bataille, who became one of his best friends after the two men met in 1924. In 1927 he created the sand paintings which would influence Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier and in 1933 he worked to create the scenery and costumes for Léonide Massine’s ballet Les Présages (Ballets russes of Monte Carlo). He moved to Spain in 1934 where he mainly interested himself in bullfighting. During the Civil War he joined the anti-fascists. The events in France and Spain led him to re-establish contact with Breton through the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires and in 1938 he took part in the Exposition internationale du surréalisme [International Surrealist Exhibition]. At this time he was working on series such as Massacres or Portraits imaginaires [Imaginary Portraits] and working with Jean-Louis Barrault, Charles Dullin, Darius Milhaud and Sylvain Itkine to create scenery for the theatre and opera. In 1940, while waiting for a ship to take him to the United States, Masson stayed near Marseille, living with the writers and artists lodging at the villa Air-Bel. He finally settled in Connecticut and adapted well to his new life, staging exhibitions (a retrospective in Baltimore in 1941, paintings at the Willard Gallery, and drawings at the Buchholz Gallery in New York, as well as others in 1944 and 1945), giving lectures and meeting ‘exiled’ artists and writers such as Tanguy. In 1943, Masson broke with Breton again, this time for political reasons. Returning to France, he divided his time between Paris and Aix-en-Provence. He devoted himself to illustration, the theatre, and the opera and painted profusely colourful, expressionist and lyrical landscapes that bordered on abstraction in a ceaseless process of renewal through which he showed evidence of genuine inventiveness. The high points of his rich career: in 1965 in France, André Malraux, the then Minister of culture, commissioned him to decorate the ceiling of the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris and in the United States in 1976 a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the MoMA in New York (later presented in Houston and Paris). AC