Yves Tanguy
Year, Birthplace 1900, France
Year, Place of death 1955
Tanguy, the son of Breton parents, was born in Paris. He spent part of his childhood in Brittany, next to vast white sandy beaches that become exposed at low tide. He was deeply affected by a legend about the city of Ys being submerged in the bay of Douarnenez. He preferred living on the margins to traditional schooling. After spending two years in the merchant navy and another two in the military, Yves Tanguy found himself in Paris in 1922 with his friend Jacques Prévert, living from doing odd jobs. At the beginning of 1924, his friend Marcel Duhamel rented a small house for the two of them at number 54, Rue du Château, in Montparnasse, and also ensured that they had food thanks to the kitchens of the hotel that he managed. Their epic life on the Rue du Château, which has been described many times, was lived through a shared passion for any type of show, anything that was unconventional, as well as walks through Paris, the cafés and the artistic neighbourhood. A lack of seriousness and the wish to provoke became their day-to-day life, without any thought for the future. In 1925, the surrealists Robert Desnos and Georges Malkine, followed by Benjamin Péret, Louis Aragon, and finally, André Breton, discovered and admired this unusual place. Many of the games that would enter the history of the surrealist movement, such as the exquisite corpse, were invented or developed there, and Tanguy became one of the key figures of those nights. As a friend of Breton and a faithful participant in the daily meetings of the surrealists at the Café Cyrano, Tanguy became a part of all of the manifestos, collective exhibitions and group events. In Montparnasse, the neighbourhood of studios and galleries, Tanguy discovered painting and threw himself into it without any formal training. The strange world of Giorgio de Chirico made a particular impression on him. He visited surrealist exhibitions. After completing a series of automatic drawings under the influence of Miró and Masson in 1926, and abandoning any human reference, Tanguy developed a style and theme that would become his own. His new friends encouraged him to explore more deeply the strange world that he revealed, a universe in which the elements are not differentiated, as on a seabed. Almost straightaway, in 1926, one of his pieces was reproduced in La Révolution Surréaliste and his paintings were exhibited at the surrealist gallery. His first solo exhibition was held at the same gallery in 1927, with a preface by Breton. Tanguy established himself quite quickly as one of the most important surrealist painters. In 1930, after returning from a trip to the south of Tunisia, his painting evolved: soft shapes – half vegetable, half animal – gave way to harder, more bone-like structures, accompanied by shadows projected onto the background on which the limit of the horizon has disappeared. His technique improved to the point where he became a master of illusionism. He influenced a new generation of surrealists, such as Roberto Matta, Jacques Hérold, Victor Brauner, and Óscar Domínguez to Esteban Francés. In the mid-1930s, American museums and collectors became interested in him. Peggy Guggenheim organised an exhibition for him in London. Tanguy met Pierre Matisse again, an old childhood friend of his who lived in New York and who became his commercial representative. At the beginning of the Second World War, he met his new companion, Kay Sage, in the United States, and decided to stay there in 1945. Due to the distance, he progressively moved away from the surrealist group, despite remaining one of its iconic figures. His painting evolved further, becoming harder, sharper, almost metallic. Increasingly complex constructions invaded the space little by little. His last painting, Multiplication of Arcs (1954, MoMA, New York) reflects his anguish and his imminent death. AC