Cadavre Exquis
Date 1933
Medium Coloured crayon drawing on black paper
Dimensions 23.7 x 31.5 cm
Inventory ID UID 102-77
It was probably Jacques Prévert who, with Yves Tanguy and Marcel Duchamp in the rue du Château, Paris, invented a version of the game of consequences: the first player writes a name on a piece of paper and folds it over; the second player writes a verb and also folds the paper; the others do the same with a complement, with adjectives... Then all the pieces of paper are unfolded and a phrase which may be strange or comic is revealed. Later this game became known as the ‘exquisite corpse’ as a result of the first chance phrase to be revealed, one which particularly struck the participants: ‘the exquisite corpse will drink the young wine’. The drawn version of the game, probably invented by Yves Tanguy and André Masson, then followed. The first player draws something on the left hand side of the sheet of paper, allowing a few lines or shapes to be seen on the following section of the sheet; the second player uses these as starting points for the next part of the drawing, without seeing what has already been drawn, and so on. At first, the drawn exquisite corpses followed the structure of a phrase and thus the paper was used horizontally. Later, as the forms became anthropomorphic, the surrealists turned the paper around, portrait style: the first player drew a head at the top, the second a torso, and so on. Since they regarded chance as a particularly important creative element, all the surrealists were captivated by the exquisite corpse and it became the symbolic game of the group’s collective activity. This exquisite corpse belongs to the second generation of surrealist games (the first being the rue du Château period, from 1925-1928). Unlike most other drawings of this type, its format is not vertical. Coloured pencils on black paper were used by the same four artists in various collective drawings of this period (as in the drawing held by MoMA in New York). In general, these drawings are much more elaborate than those from 1924. No fold marks are visible on the paper: probably the quality of the paper led the participants to adopt a different strategy of concealing what had already been drawn. It is impossible to identify the artists since there are no obvious breaks in the drawing, other than the legs of the female torso in the upper left. It can be assumed that this torso, to the top left, is by one of the participants; the two heads by another, and that the other ‘filled in’ elements are by the remaining two participants. Since neither Breton nor Tzara were really artists, we can probably assume that they undertook this ‘filling in’. The double head is typical of Valentine Hugo’s work, thus making it likely that the top left was executed by Greta Knutson. This exquisite corpse was probably created during an evening of games at the house of Tzara and his wife Greta, in Montmartre, at 15 avenue Junot. This distinctive house, built between 1925 and 1926 by the Viennese architect Adolfo Loos (who Tzara met in 1917 in Zurich), became a meeting place for the surrealists, particularly the couple’s friend Paul Éluard. Éluard, together with his wife Nusch, also participated in games during this period at the avenue Junot. This drawing dates from 1933, in other words following the break up between Breton and Hugo who, nonetheless, remained friends and neighbours. AC
Purchased at étude Libert-Castor, Paris, 8 December 1997.