Victor Brauner
Year, Birthplace 1903, Romania
Year, Place of death 1966, France
From his childhood, divided between Romania and Germany, Brauner could remember the peasant rebellions in Moldova, his father’s séances, which he attended in secret, and the announcement of the end of the world as a result of the passing of Halley’s Comet in 1910. Between 1919 and 1921, he studied at the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, from which he was expelled because of the non-academic nature of his painting. Until 1930, he took part in the avant-garde movements in Bucharest, creating the dada journal 75 H.P. in 1924 (in which he wrote the manifesto for ‘picto-poetry’) and collaborating on journals such as Punct, Revue de l'Art Constructiviste and Integral. On his first trip to Paris, in 1925-1927, he discovered Giorgio de Chirico and the surrealists. He quickly moved from ‘cubo-futurism’ to a kind of surrealism, marked by his illustrations in Unu magazine. After settling in Paris in 1930, he made contact with the surrealists through his neighbours Yves Tanguy and Alberto Giacometti, and met his compatriots Jacques Hérold, Benjamin Fondane and Constantin Brancusi. His life was plagued by poverty, shared by Tanguy, and he did odd jobs to subsist. He began a series of paintings based on the symbol of the enucleated eye (Autoportrait [Self Portrait], 1931). He joined the surrealist group in 1933. Brauner seduced the surrealists with unusual and obsessive images of chimerical figures that combined different natural kingdoms. In his series Morphologies de Monsieur K [Morphologies of Mr K], he painted portraits of dictators and denounced the rise of the fascists. To André Breton, he was ‘the magic artist’ par excellence. In 1934 his first Parisian exhibition, for which Breton wrote the preface, was held at the Pierre gallery. His participation in the group’s activities began with the illustration of Violette Nozières. Poverty sent him back to his home country. He joined Romania’s clandestine communist party, which he would abandon at the height of the Moscow Trials. After his return to Paris in 1938, during a quarrel among surrealist friends, he was hit in the face by a glass as he tried to separate Óscar Domínguez and Esteban Francés, an incident which left him permanently blind in his left eye. With reference to his 1931 self-portrait, this accident came about as an objective form of chance, and would figure, from then on, as one of the pinnacles in the history of surrealism. After the 1940 defeat and partial occupation of France by the German army, Victor Brauner took refuge with Jacques Hérold and Robert Rius in Canet-Plage. He was placed under supervised residence in Saint-Féliu d’Amont. He went to Marseille several times in the hope of getting out of France to the United States by the route organised by Varian Fry. In Villa Air-Bel, in Marseille, he re-encountered Breton, Max Ernst, and Wifredo Lam, among other figures. Repeatedly failing to leave, he acquired false documents and settled for the duration of the war in the region of Gap. The precariousness of his life forced him to adapt and make use of the few materials available to him, leading to his discovery of drawing with candles and then painting with wax, a material to which he attributed alchemical, even esoteric value. Throughout his life, Brauner perfected the technique and its use, combining the somewhat rustic nature of the material with a sumptuous refinement of the treatment of colour. Back in Paris, in 1945, he benefited from a second solo exhibition at the Pierre gallery. Julien Levy presented the painter’s works at his gallery in New York in 1947, marking the point when he began to gain international recognition. The same year, his work featured in the International Surrealist Exhibition at Galerie Maeght, where his being-object Loup-table [Wolf-table] was shown. After this exhibition, he abandoned the surrealist group, refusing to associate himself with the expulsion of Roberto Matta in 1948. Also in 1948, he settled in Switzerland for health reasons and concerned himself with the plight of Romanians living illegally in France. He then discovered, with great interest, the works of Doctor Séchehaye on schizophrenia. He returned to France and divided his time between Normandy, Paris, the south (Vallauris, where he produced a series of ceramic pieces with the warm encouragement of Pablo Picasso) and trips to Italy and Spain. He would spend the rest of his life exploring mythologies. In the year of his death, he was elected to represent France at the Venice Biennale. AC