Surrealist Centennial: 100 Years of the Surrealist Manifesto

André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto was first published in 1924. Breton, a writer and member of an earlier art movement known as Dada, penned the ideas of himself and his compatriots. Voicing their concerns about the horrors of the First World War and introducing creative works influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on the subconscious, the Surrealists garnered much attention. They were inspired by children’s drawings and outsider art as well as abstracted sculptural forms from ancient cultures.

Featured in the May 2, 2024, auction of Modern & Post-War Art are works by founding Surrealist members Max Ernst and André Masson, as well as works from the collection of Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller.

Max Ernst

Lot 24: Max Ernst, Saint Satyre, Priez pour nous, collage with pencil, gouache and watercolor, 1970. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.

Saint Satyre, Priez pour nous, 1970, is a collage Max Ernst created while living in the United States. Born in Germany, Ernst moved to Paris in 1922. After the nazi occupation of France, he was living in exile, eventually arriving in the United States in 1941, aided by his son, Jimmy Ernst, and the Emergency Rescue Committee.

André Masson

Lot 23: André Masson, Untitled (Profile), ink on paper. Estimate $1,000 to $1,500.

André Masson employed a drawing technique known as automatism. The drawing, Untitled, (Profile), is a typical work created in this style.

Leon Kelly

Lot 28: Leon Kelly, The Three Pears, pastel on card, 1923. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.

Leon Kelly was an American artist born in Philadelphia. The Three Pears, completed in 1923, shows his solid understanding of Analytical Cubism, though he had not trained firsthand in Europe. By the 1940s, he shifted toward a Surrealist style and began showing at the New York Gallery of Julien Levy. Levy showed Surrealist greats such as Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Joseph Cornell, and Roberto Matta.

Roberto Matta

Lot 29: Roberto Matta, Untitled, pencil and crayon, 1955. Estimate $800 to $1,200.

Roberto Matta was born in Santiago, Chile. His unique Surrealist style was, in many ways, the bridge to Abstract Expressionism. His work was influential on many of the Post-War artists, Arshile Gorky. Gorky’s expressive abstract forms were very familiar to younger artists such as his close friend, Willem de Kooning, and many of the expressionist painters.

American Surrealists:
Works from Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller Collection

Just as Leon Kelly arrived at Surrealism in the 1940s, so too did many American artists. The late 1930s and early 1940s were a time of great upheaval in the United States and much of the world. Many American artists of that era used their artistic talents to create works with social issues at the forefront. Husband and wife collectors Philip and Suzanne Schiller assembled a collection centered around these Social Realist artists’ works.

Eugene Berman

Lot 25: Eugene Gustavovitch Berman, Hommage à Lorenzo Bernini, oil on canvasboard, 1940. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

One American artist represented in the collection is Eugene Berman. Berman, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, lived in Paris among Max Ernst and the founding members of Surrealism. Jimmy Ernst mentions Berman among Ernst’s friends in his memoir, “A Not So Still Life.” Berman began exhibiting his works at Julien Levy’s gallery in New York in 1929 and moved to the US in 1935.

It is said that Surrealism ended with the death of André Breton in 1966. Many in the film industry, as well as the plastic arts, would push back on this conclusion. Film makers such as David Lynch are clearly creating works that are adding to the fabric of Surrealist expression. Painter Robert Williams, with his Low-Brow style of painting and the founding of Juxtapoz Magazine, has championed younger artists of the Low-Brow and Pop Surrealist style. American artists, primarily on the West Coast, are continuing exploration in the Surrealist vein with wonderful and innovative work.